Consumerism: research links it to negative consequences for children
Our baby Sam has hit his stride at three months: he’s sleeping through the night, smiles spontaneously and has discovered his ability to vocalize. Everyone in the house is happy now that we’re back on track with a somewhat normal sleeping pattern.
He’s at that age where he now responds to toys, stuffed animals; or anything that squeaks, rattles or clutches easily in his tiny hands. His nursery sports a basketful of plush toys… there has to be 15 to 20 in there, everything from Reindeer Pooh to an ecofriendly Blabla doll. It is shocking how much stuff a baby can acquire in a mere 90 days – of course, it’s the result of well-meaning friends and family members.
Sam wants for nothing. I have a feeling this is pretty similar to how most young lives play out. So as a parent I’m already wondering how we stop all the stuff from taking over. A friend pointed us to an article in the magazine, Best Life called Monsters Inc. and as a new parent it’s been a fascinating read on how marketing and consumerism impact kids. Here’s an excerpt:
Well, I’m not uptight, okay, and I don’t live off the grid or in a yurt. I’m just a dad who has figured out that the business of selling things to kids has reached a fever pitch in this country, and even the best efforts of parents to defend their children from the onslaught can leave them feeling surrounded, outnumbered, and outgunned. I have also learned that researchers have linked this phenomenon with a host of negative consequences for kids. Childhood obesity and the sexualization of girls garner the headlines, but those who have studied the problem say these issues are simply the more glaring symptoms of a larger illness.
Recent research links marketing and its sidekick, consumerism, to an increased risk for a broad spectrum of ills, including conflicts at school, conflicts with parents, psychological distress, indifference toward others, and a disregard for the world itself. Exposing a child to high levels of marketing, in other words, is a great way to make a child unhappy, unsuccessful, and unlikable. Most of us think of marketing as ads, but with shows having become toys having become brands, the most innocent of stuffed toys is no longer as innocent as it seems. “Even Sesame Street has an army of Elmo dolls out there now,” says Michael Rich, MD, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital in Boston. “For a child, these products are a connection to Sesame Street. The relationship they have developed with the program and its characters is leveraged to make them desire that brand. They’re just learning to be consumers, a mentality that says, ‘If only I can have that, I will be happy.’”
For those who say “ba-loney,” that advertising has always been with us, there’s no comparing your memories of 30-second ads with the 24-7, 360-degree, multimedia Manhattan Project now under way to own your children’s brains. In the past 25 years, marketing to children–an ethically indefensible practice that enjoys virtually no popular support and yet faces little oversight–has grown from $100 million worth of holiday-time ads, to a $17 billion effort to seed brands and licensed characters into every corner of children’s lives. With the convergence of technology that connects televisions, cell phones, and the Web, kid-brand gurus have developed an unprecedented array of Trojan-horse methods to enter your kid’s head and capture his mind. What’s at stake is more than a few dollars, it’s the internal emotional adventure of childhood itself.
If you’re a parent, it’s worth clicking over and reading the entire article. In the comment section below, please offer any advice to parents trying to battle the “born to buy” culture. Believe you me, I’m interested in any reader tips!
Photo credit: stock.xchng.