Making Parents Irrelevant

STEP BACK FOR a moment and contemplate what corporate hucksters are doing to American childhood. Bypassing the parents, these companies brazenly market directly to children, starting at age two. These marketeers (with the advice of the child psychologists on their payroll) wrap these youngsters in a commercial cocoon for an average of 30 hours a week.

Companies use three steps to avoid or neutralize parental authority over the children’s spending.

First, they urge the child to nag the parents.

Second, the sellers take conscious advantage of the absence of parents who are commuting and working long hours away from home.

Third, the marketers know that if they can undermine the authority, dignity, and judgment of parents in the eyes of their children, the little ones will purchase or demand items, regardless of their parents’ opinions.

Most people, until the disclosures about tobacco and alcohol companies court kids, had little knowledge about just how premeditated and calculated the efforts are. Children under 12 are increasingly being raised by these companies. Those kids spend far more time with corporate television, video games, toys, arcades, and now Internet games than they do with their parents and other adults. All this is fine with the companies — these boys and girls spent more than $25 billion last year, and what they got in return is violent, addictive, and tawdry sensuality.

These electronic child molesters have little sense of restraint or boundaries. Their odious fare is becoming more coarse, more violent, and more interactive to seduce these youngsters into an addiction of direct video game involvement in the mayhem. The euphemism is “interactive.” It has gotten so bad that Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano have authored a new book, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill — a call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence.

It took a while and some terrible school tragedies before President Bill Clinton told the entertainment industry that “thirty years of studies” about this “daily dose of violence” demonstrate that it does “desensitize our children to violence, and its consequences.”

Instead of our popular culture embracing children in a wholesome array of values, activities, and learning experiences with family, neighbors, and teachers, concerned adults have to focus on warding off this depraved corporate commercial saturation of the lives of millions of American youths. A saturation that is goading, exploiting, addicting, and harming children in order to sell, sell, sell.

Privately, more than a few business executives are holding their noses at what is being transmitted to these little customers. I’ve spoken to some of them. Their excuse: if we don’t do this, someone worse will do it. In reality, they just don’t have the courage to speak out as citizens.

But a new coalition of parents and friends — the Center for a New American Dream — is moving to organize public opinion and offer stiffer resistance. In a poll of parents commissioned by the center, 70 percent of parents, with children age 2 to 17, say that marketing to kids is bad for their kids’ values and world view, makes them too materialistic, and puts pressure on kids to buy things that are bad for them.

More telling, more than half of all parents polled admitted to buying things for their child that they disapproved of just because the youngster wanted the products to fit in with their friends.

The center is offering a free pamphlet called “Tips for Parenting in a Commercial Culture” to anyone who writes to Suite 900, 6930 Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park, Maryland 20912. Their Web site is www.newdream.org. The struggle continues.

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