Friday, November 26, 2010

Consuming Kids

In honor of Black Friday and the beginning of yet another holiday season wherein I strive to spend as little as possible on those love...  It's a post about commercialism!

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Consuming Kids:  The Commercialization of Childhood.

I urge every parent, aunt, grandparent, teacher, babysitter, pediatrician, and anyone else with a child in their life to watch this movie and consider how advertising plays into your life and the lives of the children you know and love.

Advertising to children has been a growing concern of mine since I became a mother.  Consuming Kids talks about how advertising to kids has changed over the last 50 or so years (and especially since the Reagan administration), and what it means for our children.  Essentially, advertising is now more aggressive and harder to avoid.

This is going to be a long post, so I'll let you watch the video and I'll ramble on after it!

Here are some key concerns addressed in the film:

- advertising to children is often for much more expensive stuff (example - whereas 20 years ago we were all happy with our cheap kids' version of a fancy stereo, kids today often get the "real" and expensive deal - the iPod).

- advertising plays a role in the obesity epidemic amongst children.  Licensed characters are selling junk food (they certainly aren't selling fresh produce and bags of rice!) and video games.

-All teevision does is make you want to watch more television.  The videos, etc, don't make your kids smarter.  They do, however, correlate to higher levels of anxiety and depression for our kiddos.

- character toys from various television shows and movies inhibit imaginative and open-ended play; children use them within their pre-defined roles and personalities (from the media they have experienced them in) rather than truly imagining who or what those toys might be.

- It is difficult to watch a television show or a movie without encountering some sort of advertising in the form of product placement.  Your Tivo and DVD player can't even spare you and your child the marketing!

- Marketers are playing on kids' desire to always act/appear older than they are.  This leads to kids losing out on just being kids!

- Marketers - and market researchers - are smart.  They are using cutting-edge technology (like MRI to see brain activity!) to test how children react to colors, speed of image change, etc.  There was also discussion of children being watched while they bathed to see how they interact with various bath items.  Really?!?  I'm assuming this is with parental awareness and consent (which only makes it slightly less creepy).  This boggles my mind.

After viewing the film, the rather small audience had a discussion that mostly centered around what we could do as a community, and as parents.  Some really great points were made:

-Limiting media is necessary, but cutting it out altogether is both impossible and potentially harmful to our kids socially.

-Cutting back on media does mean changing our own habits.  This means we need to cut back on media ourselves, and we have to make more time to be with our kids away from media!  (On this point, one mother talked about her husband being a bit of The Pied Piper in her neighborhood.  Kids were coming over to play with her husband, because he was taking them out into the woods!  She said that, though she knew it was important and wonderful, it could also be annoying because she was trying to get everyone home for dinner.  I thought this was a fabulous example of the push and pull of modern America!)

- Also on the topic of our own habits and media use, I personally talked about my use of Facebook (it's the best way to socialize when I have no common space or event to attend with my friends) and other online "social" outlets.  I use an ad-blocking tool, so I never see advertisements on Facebook unless they're coming directly from one of my friends or groups.  However, in many online forums (which I don't really frequent these days) I'll see sponsored sections with logos and offers from various companies.  However, I am capable (usually) of spotting when something is a sponsored ad, versus an independent endorsement of a product by someone I trust.  (Here are a couple of blog posts I read recently that gave me some idea that I probably do not always realize this...)  I know, too, that I need to set an example for my children by limiting and being very aware of my use of media - which includes my cell phone, the internet, TV, DVDs, and movies.

-Policy is necessary.  The film points out that places where lower-income families tend to shop (like WalMart) are particularly inundated with marketing and brands (and junk!).  So these families cannot just turn off the television - their grocery shopping trips are likely to expose their children to marketing that is directed right at them.  I can attest to grocery shopping trips being stressful and full of children's marketing, and I am shopping at a pretty darn middle class grocery store.  Bean - who has never seen an episode of Sesame Street or any Thomas the Tank Engine movie (they're movies/videos, right?  Not a television show?  See...I'm even clueless...) - identifies Thomas and Elmo on balloons, etc.  So, without policy or a giant bubble for those of us wishing to escape the marketing insanity, it is absolutely unavoidable.  Saying it's up to the parents to make choices in this is simply absurd.

Lastly, after the screening, many of us were left feeling powerless and asking "what do I do now????"  Here is what the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood suggests in print, and more in video form.

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