The Commercialization of Childhood: What Parents Can Do

Consuming Kids is a documentary by the Media Education Foundation that looks at how marketers are manipulating children essentially from birth. Check out this 5-minute trailer.

A few choice quotes…

  • “We’re creating a future generation of super consumers.”
  • “That’s the basic consumer identity, it’s shallow, it’s about me, it’s about me now, and it’s about me and these things.”
  • “How is this changing us? How is this changing our environment? How is this changing our society, and do we want this?”

This follow-up 9-minute video provides some tips for parents.

To summarize:

  1. Restrict the time your child has with commercialism (TV, Internet, etc.)
  2. Talk to them about advertising. How it works. Deconstruct it. When my 4-year-old daughter irrationally wants something, I explain how the person who made the product is trying to “trick” her into buying it. She thankfully understands the difference between “need” and “want.”
  3. When you say no to something, also say yes to something else that will be good for them.
  4. Spend time with family and friends (relationships).
  5. Teach about money: saving and managing it. Avoid immediate gratification/impulse buying.
  6. Teach them to be smart consumers. What’s a good product or deal? What’s a green product?
  7. Take issue with advertising in schools, churches, etc.
  8. Teach how marketers attempt to manipulate you. Be informed media consumers.
  9. Recognize that you are a role model. We create expectations in our children.

And lastly… If you think the issue is overblown, view the full hour documentary “strictly for purchase consideration.” Translation: it has a small viewing window with a “for preview only” label plastered on your screen.

It explains in detail how marketing to kids radically changed in the 1980s. The Federal Trade Commission was seriously considering a ban on advertising that targets young children and Congress responded by stripping the FTC of its power. With the flood gates opened, companies became very interested in how to most effectively manipulate young minds by any means necessary.


5 Responses to “The Commercialization of Childhood: What Parents Can Do”

  1. Jeff says:

    Awesome. Boy I wish more parents cared about this stuff. Thanks for posting all this. I can say happily that we do all of the stuff listed here. When a car commercial comes on my oldest (5) will scream out “Stop trying to get us to buy a car, we don’t need one!” and she’s been doing stuff like that since she could talk, essentially. Also helps that she only watches DVDs and not a minute of commericial kid’s TV (just all the crap they try to sell you doing sporting event telecasts). It’s really not hard to avoid the stuff, you just have to care a little bit and “keep your head up” in the world today.

    April 17th, 2009 at 4:53 am

  2. Summer says:

    This is very interesting and I agree it has become and “I want it now” society. A big part of how our kids turn out after years of seeing this extreme commercialism in society depends on parents.

    For example, I know a family (and can’t name names) whose kids have been spoiled I guess you can say. When they go into a store and they want something they throw a fit until they get it. As 2 and 3 year olds they had three playrooms full of toys. They did not accept hammy-downs, and did not give toys away because the kids wanted to keep everything that they had. Its easy to blame it on commercialism, but I think it more inlies blame with parents.

    In our family, my daughter watches TV and she sees commercials. Last night in fact she spouted of an Oxyclean commercial out of nowhere! The difference is, she knows there are limits. We will go shopping at a toy store just for fun. She’ll play with some of the toys, and sometimes she will ask to buy one, but when we tell her no, she is ok… doesn’t throw a fit and understands. Part of it is exaplaining to her that you don’t get everything you want in life, and that not everything you want is good for you.

    My husband’s favorite way of stating it is “YOU GET WHAT YOU GET, AND YOU DON’T THROW A FIT!”

    Its our responsibility as parents to teach our kids to be frugal. Pick 1 toy not 4. Teach them about budgets.

    Once a month my daughter and I spend a day cleaning out the toys in her room, and she picks out toys she doesn’t play with anymore and we take them to the Salvation Army.

    Yes commercialism exists, but its our job as parents to raise our kids not the media’s!

    April 17th, 2009 at 5:04 am

  3. Pippin says:

    When I was growing up, I knew that every time I went to the toy store, I didn’t get a toy. Summer is right, I think a large part of the problem is the parents’ fault.

    However, I did know that every.single.time. I went to the bookstore, I was allowed to get a book– but it had to be something that had literary merit. By the time I was a teen, I had read most of the “classics”. My parents weren’t perfect (whose are?), but what a great lesson for a child: that books always trump toys.

    April 17th, 2009 at 10:31 am

  4. Allison says:

    Thanks for posting this info. I’m going to watch the full movie when I get a chance but just the preview was very interesting.

    I agree with other peoples statements that there is a certain amount of parental responsibility needed but I think this problem far out strips even what a parent can do alone. This problem is cultural and needs to be addressed by not one parent but many parents taking action together.

    Even if you protect your child then what? We live in a society and as we can see from the current economic crisis sometimes even the responsible people end up in trouble because of others irresponsibility.

    How much good does it do to teach your children about gender stereotypes when society will still discriminate based on those stereotypes? I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our children or that the responsibility isn’t ours but that our responsibility extends beyond our own children!

    April 20th, 2009 at 9:15 am

  5. Jen says:

    My daughters watch more tv than I would like when they are with my husband, or my in-laws, but thankfully they only see dvd’s, or noggin and sprout which don’t have commercials. Before my 4 year old’s birthday, people would ask her what she wanted for her birthday, and she said “I don’t know.” because she doesn’t know what is out there! I was so happy!

    My favorite quote is “TIME is the best thing to SPEND on a child”

    April 26th, 2009 at 7:56 pm

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