On The Commercialization Of Childhood

October 12th, 2009


Our primary objective in visiting Dr. Susan Linn’s Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood offices in Boston was to add factual heft to our film.

Of course, Dr. Linn was a perfect candidate for the gig, as she’s written two key texts on the subject of children and media, “Consuming Kids,” and “The Case For Make Believe.”

In the few days since we’ve been home, I’ve immersed myself in her work, and others (like The Kaiser Family Foundation’s 114-page opus, “Generation M: Media In The Lives Of 8-18 Year-olds).

What’s challenging about tackling the subject of marketing to children is breaking away from our own memories as adults. We remember ads for Connect Four or Burger King, so think, “What’s the harm?” The harm is in the massive increase of marketer’s expenditure and screen exposure, and the erosion of creative time as a result. Have a look:

32% of two to seven-year olds, and 26% of children under two have a television in their bedroom. (Source: Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood)

In 1983, advertisers spent $100M on marketing to children. In 2008, advertisers spent $17B. (Juliet Schor, “Born to Buy”)

The average 18-year-old has witnessed 200,000 acts of televised violence. That’s nearly three-a-day. (Source: National Institute On Media & The Family)

The average 18-year-old has seen over 700,000 advertisements. That’s more than 100-a-day. (American Psychological Association)

The average 10-year-old can name 400 brands. (Source: Progressive Policy Institute)

Children between 4 and 12-years-old spend $30B a year on junk food, candy, toys and games, an increase of 400 percent in twenty years. (Source: Progressive Policy Institute)

Children and teenagers influence up to $500B in family spending annualy, a 1000% increase since 1960. (Source: Progressive Policy Institute)

The average child spends six and a half hours using electronic media, including three hours of television. (Source: Kaiser Foundation)

98% of televised food ads seen by children are for products high in sugar, fat or sodium. (Source: CCFC)

Obesity rates among children 6-11 have quadrupled since 1980. (Source: CCFC)

85% of Americans believe that children’s television should be commercial-free. (Source: The Center For The New American Dream)

87% of Americans say that “current consumer culture makes it harder to instill positive values in children.” (Source: The Center For The New American Dream)

In the end, “Mister Rogers & Me” doesn’t endeavor to be preachy, but instead to give pause, and allow for reflection. Stay tuned.

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  • An MTV producer's life is transformed when he meets the recently retired host of 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,' Fred Rogers. Friendship with the PBS icon sets the young producer on a hero's quest to find depth and simplicity amidst a shallow and complex world through conversations with Susan Stamberg (NPR), Tim Russert ('Meet The Press'), Marc Brown ('Arthur') and more.
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