Back in August I attended the Hunter Alliance for Childhood’s first ever Expo for Childhood. One of the highlights for me was a film screening of an American documentary called “Consuming Kids – The Commercialization of Childhood” (You can watch the video on You Tube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uUU7cjfcdM) I walked away finally feeling justified in my hatred of licensed products (you know – Dora the Explorer backpacks, Thomas the Tank Engine Yoghurt)
While the hour long documentary was inspiring and enlightening, I felt I just had to know more, so picked up a copy of the book of the same name, written by Susan Linn. I have finally finished the book (it’s a little hard to squeeze in reading for pleasure with a full time job, a business and a toddler!) and have been left in a total state of disgust at major corporations. It’s worth noting that the book is American and thankfully many of the things mentioned in the book are not yet a concern in Australia, however with the way our country tends to follow in the footsteps of the United States, I feel it critical that we are informed and begin to advocate for our children.
I can’t possibly begin to summarise the overwhelming facts and figures in this book, but the following are just some of the key points that stood out
· The impact that advertising is having on our food choices – with obesity an epidemic in both the USA and Australia, the last thing our children need is to believe that just because a product has a Sesame Street character on it, it must be good for you!
· The impact that advertising is having on children’s relationships with one another
· The sexualisation of young children via advertising – children being bombarded with overtly sexual images, song lyrics, product advertisements etc.
· The increase in violence in the media - over time ratings and classifications have changed and violence has crept further and further into family viewing.
· The way in which alcohol and tobacco companies subtly market to children (I don’t believe this is as prevalent in Australia – at least not with tobacco, but when you watch Alcohol ads carefully it really will make you think)
· The fact that so many advertisements for children are about how a product will make you “cooler, better, stronger, more popular” creating a shallow, materialistic attitude
· Advertising creeping into schools – in the USA there are schools that have Burger Kings on the premises, they have vending machines in every hallway, they have curriculums provided by large corporations whose main aim is to sell their product and even go on excursions to stores where they are given vouchers so that they “can come back later and show mom and dad everything you want” – remind me again…what is the purpose of school??
So, if you are sitting here now thinking “that’s all well and good, but what can I as an early childhood educator, do about this?” My answer – ANYTHING YOU CAN!!! Advocating for people who are not always able to advocate for themselves (i.e. children) is something I am most passionate about. Since watching this movie and also reading the book I will share it’s themes with anyone who will listen – I spent our recent family camping trip explaining to my parents that I am not some crazy nutter, there is actually a whole lot of statistics and research that backs up my ramblings! In addition to just telling passers-by in the street, these are some suggestions for how you can spread the message:
· Put information in your family newsletters
· Email your families with a link to this blog
· Encourage your staff to read the book (or watch the movie together as a group) and set the topic for discussion at a staff meeting.
· Write advocacy articles for local publications
· Join an advocacy group (in the Newcastle area, the Hunter Alliance for Childhood - http://www.hunterallianceforchildhood.org/ is awesome!)
I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue and how at impacts on your own children or the children in your care…
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