The dangers of turning our children into rampant consumers

June 16, 2008 | By | 8 Replies More

On June 7, 2008, I had the opportunity to discuss the commercialization of American children with Josh Golin, the Associate Director of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

Josh’s two-part interview was sponsored by—no one. Isn’t this total lack of commercial sponsorship a pleasant change of pace?

People who warn about the commercialization of our children sound quaint or even shrill to most other Americans. After all, how could it possibly be a bad thing to buy lots and lots of things for our children, to “spoil” them?

As Josh indicates in this interview, there is now scientific data substantiating that buying children more things is harming them. More stuff (and the anticipation of yet more stuff) leads to a warped set of attitudes and priorities, as well as obesity and attention disorders.

I enjoy talking with Josh because he makes his case clearly and enthusiastically. You can see this for yourself by clicking on the two videos of his interview. What CCFC offers in place of a chokingly endless stream of products is common sense: children can thrive without owning the toys hawked by merchandisers. Instead of more toys, children need more creative play and more time developing real life relationships with other children and adults in their communities.

Part I – Interview of Josh Golin

We all know that American middle class children don’t need most of possessions they have (they are a lot like their parents in this regard). Because there is a limited number of hours in a child’s life, giving children more of what they don’t need leaves them with less time and energy for the sorts of things they do need, such as physical fitness, healthy relationships and creative play.

As you can see from the topics I raised in this two-part interview, marketers have done such a superb job of characterizing wants as needs that parents (and their kids) are now doing the dirty work of marketing unnecessary products and services to you and your child. Those who don’t yet have children might doubt this claim. From personal experience, though, I can attest that it is almost impossible to spend significant time with another parent without someone earnestly suggesting that a child “needs” to purchase something that is unnecessary.

Part II – Interview of Josh Golin

It would be a rare day when you spot an anti-commercialism discussion like these on television, even on PBS (where commercials appear in the form of “sponsorship announcements”). Why not? Because acknowledging the toxic environment caused by the rampant marketing aimed at children would destroy the advertising revenue on which most “children’s” shows depend.

For more on the damage excessive advertising does to children, take a look at this image-laden trailer from the Media Education Foundation video, Consuming Kids:

For related posts at Dangerous Intersection see here.

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Media, Video by DI

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. Mary says:

    A great topic. I agree that all this consumerism warps the sense of what important.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    When we combine this post with others at this site that have pointed out the gigantic federal debt that 'family values' Republicans have created for America's children, we get an even more chilling picture: children born in America today can look forward to not only inheriting a crippling debt load, but also the expectation that they will further cripple themselves with a personal debt load. Their parents should be ashamed of themselves.

  3. Alison says:

    I just linked to your post on child consumerism from my blog. I hate advertising more and more all the time. I've tried to get my kids to view it with skepticism – is there anything cuter than a 5-year-old telling a friend "they're just trying to get you to want something you don't need!"? Replay TV spares us TV ads, Firefox keeps most of the online ads out of sight, but it feels like we're being buried sometimes by junk mail, print ads in the newspaper, billboards. . .I refuse to patronize grocery stores that have the TVs at the checkouts, and I take note of whose ads have to be ripped off so I can read a section of newspaper or magazine and avoid them, too. Remember when products in TV shows and movies were "greeked" so you wouldn't see brand names? Now they're prominently featured in return for money to produce the entertainment. Now that there are about 20 minutes of commercials for unrelated products before movies in the theatre, we try to wait a few weeks to see a big-screen movie so we can come in late and still get good seats. If we don't need to see it big, we wait until Netflix has it. It shouldn't take this much effort and strategization to avoid being sold to! I suppose I'm preaching to the choir here – sorry for bending your ear. Or eyeballs. Or whatever we call assault by bombastic e-mail. . .

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    CCFC recently sent me an email with this message:

    Parents today are rightly concerned that, driven by an almost single-minded focus on financial profit, the nation’s media and marketing institutions are teaching young people lessons and values that undermine good parenting and harm children. For all the benefits that the media have brought us, these industries have also contributed to a profound coarsening of our culture with a steady stream of messages that sexualize children, promote unhealthy eating, and glorify violence and materialism. The escalation in marketing targeted directly at children, including babies, has been scientifically linked to some of the most serious public problems facing our nation: childhood obesity, youth violence, eating disorders, precocious sexuality, the decline in children’s creative play, and family stress.

  5. Pam says:

    last Christmas season my husband and I were broke. all we could afford was a turkey and trimmings and only three total gifts for under the tree for our two children. in years past they were spoiled by many christmas gifts and even threw fits when they didn't get all they wanted. so before christmas last year I was extremely depressed because I just knew my children would be disappointed. well the exact opposite was true! they were sweet and we played together with the gifts, one boys bicycle, one soft tip dartboard that I got at a flea market and a basketball and hoop. they were really wonderful and not the brats of the past christmases. this year we are better off financially but in light of the economic downturn I decided not to spend this christmas either and i feel like a load of bricks has been lifted from my shoulders. yes they will recieve some small items like books, paints and brushes, beads to make jewelery, clothes that need anyway but that's it. teaching them to not be duped by consumerism is an excellent lifetime gift that we're giving them.

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