Reaction to “Consuming Kids – The Commercialization of Childhood”

By Kelly Thunstrom

I was glued to the screen during this one hour and eight minute preview of Consuming Kids – The Commercialization of Childhood.  This film dumbfounded me and shook me to the core.  Who is truly raising our kids?  Every parent and teacher needs to watch this, and ask themselves this question.

We all know that the sole objective of a commercial or advertisement is to sell a product.  We are bombarded every day with a “buy me” mentality, and frankly, most of us have become immune to it.  We all know about product placement and the lengths that most companies will go to get us to buy their brand.  However, Consuming Kids takes that further by suggesting that the companies don’t really want you…they want your kids.

It is estimated that $40,000,000,000 (yes, that’s billion) is spent by children under 12 in the United States today.  As if that wasn’t astounding enough, kids get adults to spend $700,000,000,000 through their purchasing influence on decisions like the family car, computer, cell phone, and vacation.  Marketers want kids to throw tantrums if their influence is not followed.

Retailers are interested in getting brand loyalty from kids early (like baby-early).  They want brand loyalty for life, with their brand in front of a child at every moment of every day.  Most kids are subjected to 3000 commercial messages a day.  There have been movements to regulate or end children’s advertisement, but nothing ever came of it.  Because of this, kids have seen an astronomical increase in advertising directed to them.

In the past, a TV show was developed, and then maybe a lunchbox came out of it.  Now, it has become the norm to create a cartoon to sell a toyWhen the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released, there were 1000 products linked to the movie.

The film says that a child can travel through the entire day with their character.  Think how many everyday items have characters emblazoned on them…from toothbrushes, breakfast cereal, T-shirts, bookbags, notebooks, and bed sheets.  Spongebob Squarepants was Kraft’s bestselling macaroni and cheese.  Kids insisted that it tasted better than the normal kind.

Advertising has taken on new forms with “Advergames”, where kids can play Keebler and Skittles games online.  Cell phones have advertising at a child’s fingertips, where they can freely download Disney and Nickelodeon videos.  Product placement in movies and TV shows has become rampant.  Think…have you ever seen anyone on American Idol drink anything but Coke products?

Do not think that advertising is just done on electronic devices and that kids are safe at school.  Now schools are selling ad space to advertisers and taking “educational field trips” to stores like Petco and Sports Authority.

Consuming Kids says that there are more than fifteen youth conferences a year to discuss ways to market kids.  The film even goes so far as to say that companies stalk kids to see how they interact with products and their friends.  This part of the film is absolutely mindboggling to me, especially the unbelievable “blink test”.

No part of the film did I more agree with than “What you buy is what you are”.  Kids are taught to buy soda, candy, and toys because it’s “cool”.  The fact that possessions will make you happy is the value that is being sold to kids.  Designer jeans are now being marketed to first graders.  Is there a reason that a 9-year-old needs $120 boots or will $10 ones serve the same purpose?  There is a child psychologist in the film who says that before the late ‘80s, a child would say that they want to be a teacher, a police officer, or an astronaut when they grow up.  Now, many say they want to be rich.

I also found it shocking that the movie rating system has shifted.  What was once rated “R” is now “PG-13”, but still with the same language, violence, and sexual situations.  Movies such as the PG-13 rated Spiderman have a whole line of products marketed to 3-5 year olds.

I must admit that I am on the fence about the film idea that the billion-dollar Baby Einstein and Baby Mozart series of videos are scams.  The film states that there is not one shred of evidence that proves this works.  Possibly some parents who use these videos would disagree.  However, the American Pediatrics Association recommends no television viewing at all for children younger than two.  They say that creative play and problem solving is far superior to these early videos.

The film discusses the effects of product buying on kids’ imaginations.  Product makers insist to kids that there is no way they can play “Harry Potter” if they do not have the official wand.  Their imaginations are not good enough to pick up a stick and say it’s a wand.  When I realized how true this is, my heart sank.

There are a slew of health problems that are happening in children now, from depression, to anxiety, to obesity, to weight-related diabetes.  At lunch in many schools, kids are served donuts and french fries.  My hat goes off to the few schools in the country that are making the necessary changes, from having kids grow their own gardens to those that have banned trans fats.  Unfortunately, an apple usually doesn’t stand a chance against a fruit rollup with a cartoon character on it.

There are laws about seatbelts and helmets, but until the government realizes it is not OK to subject kids to hyper-marketing, I see few changes on the horizon.

Kelly Thunstrom has been teaching for almost 15 years, working with the fourth, fifth, and seventh grades full-time.  She has been named to Who’s Who in Education, as well as awarded the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence in Education.  Kelly is editor and publisher of 1776books, which provides reviews of various types of books.  She also writes book reviews for Bookloons, local theater reviews for Stage Partners, and is the arts reviewer for the local Patch syndicates.



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