The Natural Child Column
Protecting Our Kids From Commercialism
by Wendy Priesnitz
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 over-consume 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
Another study, reported by sociology professor and author Juliet
Schor, 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.”
Other researchers have suggested that marketing is a
factor in the childhood obesity epidemic and encourages eating
disorders, precocious sexuality, youth violence and family stress.
Unfortunately, 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.
Children see 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 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 actions was a letter writing campaign that
began 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 promoted itself as commercial-free
and the “Parents Area” of the site did not mention that it includes
advertising. CCFC has also successfully 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. And it
continues to protest Mattel's Hello Barbie, a doll that records and analyzes
children’s private conversations, which experts agree is a threat to
children’s privacy, wellbeing, and creativity.
Alliance for Childhood
Kidnapped: How Irresponsible Marketers Are Stealing the
Minds of Your Children by Daniel Acuff and Robert Reiher (Kaplan
Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood
by Susan Linn (Free Press, 2004)
Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New
Consumer Culture by Juliet B. Schor (Scribner, 2004)
Stealing Innocence: Corporate Culture’s War on Children
by Henry A. Giroux (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001)
The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence
by Henry A. Giroux (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001)
Harvesting Minds: How TV Commercials Control Kids
by Roy Fox (Praeger, 2000)
Children First: A Parent’s Guide to Fighting Corporate
Predators by Ralph Nader (Children First, 1996)
The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser (MIT
Wendy Priesnitz is the Editor of
Natural Life Magazine and a journalist with over 40 years of experience.
She has also authored 13 books. For more information on children
and commercialism, read our spin-off publication
Natural Child Magazine.