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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Who’s Bringing Up America’s Children?

Let’s say there was a debate topic entitled “Who’s bringing up America’s children -­parents or corporations?” Would the debater supporting the proposition that business is influencing children more than are parents have all that difficult a case to argue? Doubtful. Here is a quick and incomplete tour. Start out with infant formula hucksters who have succeeded in deceptive appeals to mothers that their breast milk just can’t do the job like the manufactured stuff, nor is it as convenient and glamorous. Move along to the war toys reeking with zapping and vaporizing violence. View the morning television shows for kiddies and their relentless junk food advertising whose purpose is to induce the little ones to nag their parents to buy the concoctions.

Filled with high amounts of sugar, salt and fat, these foods are full of empty calories and the potential for predisposing these children to later diseases such as high blood pressure. Teenagers and preteens have never been rated as more obese and flabby. Glued to the television set and eating junk hardly develops a hardy race. The average five year old watches about 35 hours a week of television, which has become an electronic baby sitter that merchandises the sensual values of a grasping marketplace to their young minds.

At school, the children are greeted by vending machines containing junk food and drink. In the classrooms, free and glossy booklets and videos are distributed by industry trade groups to the teachers. Millions of children learn about the auto, oil, coal, electric and meat industries through these propagandistic materials. The mere list of these corporate materials fills a large catalog.

Working the preteen and teenage market, many a big company has learned to use the youngsters’ peer group as the final endorser. The Nike and Reebok shoe uniform has created pressures that have led to teenage theft and violence, not to mention swarms of family squabbles. This impact pales next to the deliberate efforts by the tobacco industry to hook young smokers to a lifetime of carcinogenic addiction. Or the liquor industry with their ads and sponsorships and retired athletes providing brand name excitement for young drinkers.

Shaping youngsters’ aesthetic conditioning is a specialty of corporate marketing. The cosmetic companies and their distributors are now going to work on 8 and 9 year old girls in special sessions that teach them how to use eye shadow and other makeup. The centralized, commercialized definitions of beauty, in order to sell the pastes, powders and perfumes, require peer group tyranny. So the beauty ads come with implicit social sanctions for those who would disregard the invitations, such as an impaired social life or outright rejection by one’s friends.

Who can begin to tally the anxiety, neurosis and worse that fills youngsters’ minds when they despair of ever coming close to the shapes and looks pitched by Vogue, Seventeen and the allied cosmetic companies.

Not to be outdone are the drug companies who have discovered that over-medication of the young works. A pill for any discomfort. Basic preparation for later adult addictions induced by the pharmacological hucksters.

Now comes day care chains, led by Kindercare’s nationwide plans to bring up the latchkey kids. Child, meet your surrogate grandparent, aunt, father, mother — it is the Kindercare corporation complete with uniform manuals and procedures!

I’m reminded of a recent survey of working couples whose average “quality time” with their children during weekdays amounted to 17 minutes a day. What self-respecting television set would be satisfied with such limited access?

Then there is the compressed attention span that the entertainment Pavlovs cultivate. Only this is no laboratory experiment; it has become an agitated way of young life. After a diet of Walkman and MTV immersions, not many youthful brains have the patience to listen to a thoughtful presentation or simply to think in sequences rather than to reverberate impulsively to some sonic-shattering beat. When these minds grow into adulthood, they find the 30 second political ads, with split second snapshot scenes about the candidate, quite congenial.

The overall sensual envelopment by corporate marketing of the young generation replaces critical thinking, indeed any thinking or reading or writing at all. In this way, certain behaviors dedicated to corporate cash flow transform a culture into mercantile gulches.

What’s left for parents to do, besides pay the bills and take their progeny’s insults and tantrums? Well, they can be satisfied with blocking the pornographic, living room invaders by coding out or zapping the lustful shows on cable television sponsored by some of the pillars of the corporate community. Or they can start taking back their children — the old-fashioned way.