Before children have even developed a proper sense of their own identity, or learned to handle money, they are encouraged to associate tutus and self-worth with stuff, and to look to external things such as fame and wealth for validation. We’re turning out legions of little consumers rather than young citizens who will value themselves for what they contribute to the society in which they live. If you inculcate the values of the consumer society from childhood then it’s no wonder that those of the “big society” fall to take root. The one surely precludes the other.
We’ve reached this point so gradually that many of us have never questioned It. It’s repeat up on us in the 60 years since advertisers started to target the young and found that they could recruit them to a commercial assault on their parents. We’ve come to know It as pester power. Like so many aspects of parenthood we only grasp the full reality when we experience It first-hand, In my case when my son, now six, mastered the TV remote. When he’d watched only the Bib’s Scabbiest he was largely shielded from the effects of advertising.
Once he’d found the commercial channels, it was like watching the consumerist equivalent of crack take hold. The adverts would come on. A minute later there would invariably be a demand for something that had Just been advertised – anything, so long as it wasn’t pink and didn’t involve fairies. Then there would be the tantrum when I said no; this from a boy who had never been prone to tantrums. Many psychologists, child development experts and educators point to research suggesting that this emerging cradle-to-grave consumerism is contributing to growing rates of low self-esteem, depression and other forms of mental illness.
Not all psychologists agree. There are plenty working hand in glove with a El ban-a- year industry that has turned the manipulation of adult emotions and desires into an rotator -? often literally. It’s also one that’s forever developing new ways to persuade our children to desire the material morsels dangled before them, and because of advertising’s viral effect they only need to infect a few to reach the many. I do have friends whose children are largely free from the pressures of advertising, but they live In a mobile home on a smallholding in a remote corner of Ireland. For
Should we ban all advertising aimed at young children, full stop? I say yes. Of course there will be plenty of objections to an outright ban on advertising to the under-I Is. There will be those who argue that would be a breach of freedom of speech and infringes the rights of corporations to brainwash little children into demanding their tat. There’s the “it’s technically impossible” objection, though the same software that helps online advertisers stalk us can filter out groups such as children too. Other countries, including Norway, Sweden, Greece as well as the Canadian province of
Quebec, already have bans, particularly on TV ads. Then there are those who will claim it would drive some businesses under. That’s both an admission that pester power works and ignores the counter-argument that a business that has to bypass parents in order to sell its stuff really needs to raise its game. Target me, not my six-year-old. I’m the one with the money. If you can’t persuade me your product is worth getting, it probably isn’t, so make something better. Or businesses that rely on ad revenue will have to rely on other models, such s subscriptions.
Most parents hate what advertising does to their children. We have the power to end it and let our children grow up free from many of the pressures of consumerism until they’re old enough to make their own decisions. And though advertising is only part of an all-pervasive marketing culture we need to make a start somewhere. Let’s ban all advertising targeting children of primary school age and younger now. ; Together with Green politician Rupert Read, Jonathan Kent has launched the campaign Leave Our Kids Alone