I’ve been reading the excellent report, “Kids Unbranded,” created by the Center for the New American Dream, and hope you will too. It does a wonderful job both stating the problems created by commercial exploitation of children and offering tactics that individuals can use to fight that exploitation.
It seems so obvious to me, and yet it is so far off the radar of most of us: It is our job to protect our children, and yet we shirk that job so often, while routinely, almost cliche-ingly, proclaiming that “the kids are our future.”
Ask anyone: “Is it acceptable to you that children be exploited?” and of course you’ll get not only a “no,” but a “good-gracious-how-could-you-even-suggest-that ‘no.’” And yet, we allow them to be targeted commercially to the tune of $15 billion annually. Some would argue that corporations have the right — as if our kids’ welfare is a political issue — but even if there is such a right, would it outweigh the right of children to be safe from sly manipulation?
The American Psychological Association says “that children under the age of eight are unable to critically comprehend televised advertising messages and are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased,” but they’ve been saying it for 10 years, and who has cared, enough to win legal protection for them? Seriously, have you lifted a finger?
Societally, we long ago agreed that for some things, we required minimum ages for allowing young people to make decisions on their own — statutory rape, anyone? — even if kids think they can decide for themselves. So why are we allowing marketers to spend $15 billion a year screwing with kids’ minds?
As the report states, this isn’t theoretical. Daily exposure to 10.45 hours of screen time has real effect: For instance, “youth who spend more time with media report lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And:
Dr. Allen Kanner, child psychologist at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California, has been asking kids over the past few decades what they wanted to do when they grew up. Their answers used to include such job titles as “nurse” and “astronaut.” Kanner says he is now more likely to hear “make money.” He adds: “In my practice I see kids becoming incredibly consumerist … When they talk about their friends, they talk about the clothes they wear, the designer labels they wear, not the person’s human qualities.” ~ Quoted in the New American Dream report.
The only way this exploitation can be stemmed is if enough people — you (personally, you), as well as me, and our neighbors and friends — insist that this is a bottom-line issue. Taking a stand for kids — isn’t it what we say we would do? Not unheard of, right? Not one of us can do it alone, so in addition to taking a personal stand, we can also support and work with groups that are already at work in this field, including Media Literacy Now, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, and The Lamp.
It's fair of you to ask: So what have you done, Mr. Blowhard? My family has given to CFCC; I attended one of their conferences; I've allied with Erin McNeill, founder and president of Media Literacy Now; I've tried to educate myself about the issues so I'm prepared when it comes to my own son; I follow several people and groups dedicated to this issue and RT their posts in my social media channels; and I've written about the topic several times in this space, including this post. This ain't bragging — frankly, I don't think it rises to the level of brag-worthiness — it's trying to be accountable.
Please tell us, via the comments section, what you've done. And no matter where you are now, tell us if you're willing to take one more action in defense of children against a $15 billion dollar annual assault on children's still-forming outlooks?