One of the
central premises of marketing is that buying things will make us happy.
There is a growing body of evidence, however, that the opposite is true,
that the pressure to overspend and overconsume actually makes people less
happy. And when the pressure to become materialistic affects children, the
results are worse.
A study of
materialistic values among children by psychology professor
Tim Kasser found
that materialistic children are less happy, have lower self-esteem and
report more symptoms of anxiety and less generosity. The study also found
that more materialistic children report engaging in fewer positive
environmental behaviors such as reusing paper and using less water while
Another study, reported by sociology professor and author
found that for children, “High consumer involvement is a significant cause
of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and psychosomatic complaints.
Psychologically healthy children will be made worse off if they become more
enmeshed in the culture of getting and spending. Children with emotional
problems will be helped if they disengage from the worlds that corporations
are constructing for them.”
researchers have suggested that marketing is a factor in the childhood
obesity epidemic and encourages eating disorders, precocious sexuality,
youth violence and family stress.
marketing to children is big business, worth billions of dollars a year. And
it’s growing. According to the
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
(CCFC), the amount spent on marketing to children doubled between 1992 and
1997. And the target age is getting younger as ever younger children
influence purchasing decisions and parents want to give their children an
edge over their peers.
advertisements on television, on the Internet, at the movies, on school
buses, and in school classrooms. Although direct advertising to children in
not allowed in some countries, kids are still exposed to stealth marketing.
Almost every major media program for children has a line of licensed
merchandise used to sell fast food, breakfast cereals, snacks and candy.
Many toys, such as Coca-Cola Barbie and McDonald’s Play-Doh are actually
advertisements for food.
A number of
professional and public health organizations, including the World Health
Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics, support restrictions on
marketing to children. And a number of organizations and coalitions –
including CCFC – have formed to protect children from exploitative
marketing. CCFC is a coalition of health care professionals, educators,
advocacy groups, and concerned parents wanting to counter the harmful effects
of marketing to children.
One of CCFC’s
recent actions is a letter writing campaign that began in early December
when it was alerted by parents to the quiet integration of advertising on
Webkinz World – a wildly popular social networking site for kids who’ve
bought Webkinz stuffed animals. The site has promoted itself as
commercial-free and the “Parents Area” of the site does not mention that it
includes advertising. CCFC has also registered complaints to the U.S.
Federal Trade Commission requesting changes to what it calls “false and
deceptive” marketing of Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby videos.
Aside from the efforts of
organizations like this, parents can do a great deal to protect their
kids from overt commercialism.
Most experts stress the importance of parents engaging with their
children’s media and be ready to discuss the images and events they see
there. Make sure your kids understand that they can be manipulated by
advertisements to want things they don't need or didn't even want before
they saw the ad. Here are some other things to do, as suggested by the
Media Awareness Network:
Watch television, surf the
web and play video games with your children. This will allow you to
discuss the ads and other content with them – how it makes them
feel, what the intent of an ad is, what’s fantasy and what’s
Make a game out of spotting the tricks of the
advertising trade in commercials and magazine ads.
Help kids analyze content. Some questions to discuss
include: Who created this message and why? Who profits from it? What
techniques are used to attract and hold attention? What lifestyles,
values, and points of view are represented in this message? What is
omitted and why?
Help your children learn that using technology is
collaborative and social, and not an isolating solitary activity.
Talk with young girls about the female body images
they see in magazines and on TV, and give them better role models.
Set an example in your own life through your media
consumption and purchasing habits.
Create a family media diary to log how much of
different types of media you are exposing yourselves to. Then
discuss whether that is a good thing or not so you can create
guidelines together...for every member of the family.
Get outside and play with your kids on a regular
is a journalist with over 40 years experience, the parent of two
the editor of Natural
Child Magazine, and the
author of twelve books.