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Consuming Kids with Advertising

Ads for everything from movies to Cheetos to iPods are on children’s television, t-shirts — even ads at school. But some Houston-area parents think too much commercialism is harmful to their kids. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez has more.


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“Star Wars Legos, and there’s also Star Wars video games I’ve seen.”

For his sixth birthday, Nathan Kenison got a Star Wars t-shirt. Though he’s never seen the movie and his mother Jennifer doesn’t allow video games at all in their house, he’s still exposed to the brand everywhere.

“They’re at the school, Star Wars Legos!”
“But what is Star Wars geared for?  13 year olds. But here the 5 and 6 year olds are wearing Star Wars t-shirts?”
They’re awesome!”

Kenison knows that a Star Wars t-shirt is not going to permanently damage her son.  But she is concerned about constant marketing messages telling her children what to like and what to buy:

“Just because the world is telling you you deserve this, don’t you want that, doesn’t mean you have to have it. They’re not caring about your mindset or your well being, they care about making money.”

And that’s why she and other parents at the Shady Oak Christian School in Richmond, outside of Houston, are supporting the screening of “Consuming Kids”, a film which will be shown this Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Richmond.  The film describes the tactics and effects of marketing to children. 

“Where is my pink Prada tote? I need my Tiffany hair-band…”

Dr. Susan Linn is a psychologist and director of the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, the organization that’s promoting this film around the country.  She’s not opposed to all advertising, but is concerned that children’s advertising promotes greed and other messages like violence and sexuality.

“Children are much more vulnerable to advertising than adults are. And research shows that until the age of 8, children can’t even understand persuasive intent.”

Linn says that marketers rely on the science of how children think to get them hooked on brands, from infancy on.  This encourages them to base their identity on buying.

“I want more!”

Dan Jaffe, the executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, says that the industry self-regulates children’s advertising, because they recognize kids are more vulnerable.  But he says that in our culture, kids need to learn how to handle advertising:

“What they’re trying to suggest there is that somehow that we can cocoon kids. Then the question is how long?  Are we talking up ’til 12, are we talking up ’til 18 as some people have proposed?  We don’t think that advertising harms kids as long as there is parental intervention.”

The Shady Oak parents and industry agree that parents have a fundamental role to protect  their children.  But the parents argue that advertisers should market to them-not their kids.  Here’s parent Mattie Malinak:

“At this point it’s only the parent’s responsibility to turn those commercials off so that they can have a conversation with their children instead of explaining to them, that’s wrong, that’s wrong, that’s not right.”

Currently, the FTC has limited power over children’s advertising.  The Campaign for the Commercial Free Childhood would like to see restrictions tightened. The industry would like to preserve its First Amendment rights to sell their product in an effective way. 

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Melissa Galvez

Links to include at the bottom of the story:

Information on this weekend’s screening:

The Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood:

Children’s Advertising Review Unit: (The advertising industry’s self-regulatory body)