A new book, Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture by consumer expert Juliet Schor, explores the damaging effects advertising and marketing have on children. According to this breakthrough research, the advertising-saturated culture our children are exposed to is causing an array of psychosomatic symptoms.
Schor, a board member for the Center for a New American Dream, had unprecedented access to the inside operations of children’s marketing and found advertising agencies using insidious new ways of reaching children. Advertising aimed at children is everywhere, from television and movies to the internet and even in school classrooms. According to the survey, children’s involvement in consumer culture affects their well-being. Children who participated in the survey reported suffering from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and psychosomatic complaints such as headaches and stomachaches due to high levels of exposure to advertising and consumer culture.
Expenditures for advertising and marketing aimed specifically at children have risen to over $15 billion a year. This amount is likely to grow with the increase in children’s buying power, now estimated at more than $30 billion a year in direct purchases. Children influence an additional $670 billion worth of parental spending, making them a prime advertising target. It’s estimated that the average child watches more than 40,000 television commercials per year. According to a recent poll released by the Center for a New American Dream nearly 8 in 10 of Americans (79%) think there should be more limits on advertising to children. The majority of Americans (87%) think that our current consumer culture makes it harder to instill positive values in our children.
“Throughout my interviews, I found the repeating phenomenon of marketers feeling immense guilt and ambivalence about using their skills to target kids with inappropriate messages, questionable products, and insidious techniques,” said Juliet Schor.
One couple interviewed by Schor described their son as “the ultimate consumer.” He was drawn like a moth to television. He has a tendency to be distracted and hasn’t always done well in school. He wanted to buy every product he saw advertised and was constantly fighting with his parents over purchases. His parents were battling to cut back his usage of electronic media.
A majority of parents interviewed were not grappling with such serious problems, but many imposed restrictive regimes in which media use was strictly monitored and regulated. The most media-restrictive parents generally described their children as healthy as well as academically and socially successful. They found their children to not be all that resistant to the rules.
The book Born to Buy offers the following six tips to help parents reduce children’s exposure to advertising:
- Parents need to create, and stick to, rules about when, how much, and what kids can watch on television. Parents may choose to not have cable. Parents should not be afraid to raise their children “television-free.” The key to success appears to be consistency, rules tailored to the needs of individual children, and heavy time commitments to homework, sports, extracurricular activities, and outdoor play.
- Parents can encourage schools and PTAs to sponsor conversations and workshops on topics such as television programs, movie ratings, media use, and video games. As communities come together to discuss these issues, awareness is created and common approaches can develop. Parents should also be on the lookout for advertisement creeping up in other electronic media like the internet, movies, and video games.
- Parents can communicate with other parents to control consumption choices. They can call ahead at sleepovers to find out what videos will be watched, and confer about the acceptability of new CDs. Adults need to communicate and cooperate to establish safe and healthy environments for children.
- The families who are most successful in keeping the corporate culture at bay are involved in alternatives. Start a parent-child book club, organize a neighborhood sporting event, or host a family movie night. Other popular activities include playing board games after school, woodworking, and going on nature walks. According to a Center for a New American Dream poll, 69 percent of children (ages 9-14) would like to spend more time with their parents.
- These days with the rate of child obesity on the rise, parents should limit the purchasing of the latest junk food products. Instead they can try introducing children to healthy nutritious food early on. It is important for parents to remember to stand their ground and fight the resistance to give into advertisers’ aggressive marketing to children.
- Parents who are interested in reducing the influence of commercial culture on their children need to walk the talk. Restricting television is much harder in households where parents watch a lot. Parents who desire less commercial lifestyles for their children need to change with them.
The book Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture can be found at any bookstore or online bookseller.
From the Center for a American Dream.