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Children 'damaged' by materialism


BBC News
February 26, 2008



Most adults in the UK believe that children's well-being is being damaged because childhood has become too commercial, a lifestyle poll has found.

Some 89% of adults in the GfK NOP survey of 1,255 people believed today's children were more materialistic than previous generations.

The poll is one of the contributions to a continuing inquiry into childhood.

The Children's Society said adults had to "take responsibility for the current level of marketing to children".

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the society, said: "A crucial question raised by the inquiry is whether childhood should be a space where developing minds are free from concentrated sales techniques.

"To accuse children of being materialistic in such a culture is a cop-out," he said.

"Children should be encouraged to value themselves for who they are as people rather than what they own" - Dr Rowan Williams

Mr Reitemeier said: "Unless we question our own behaviour as a society we risk creating a generation who are left unfulfilled through chasing unattainable lifestyles."

The children's market is worth an estimated 30bn a year.

As chief executive of the National Schools Partnership, Mark Fawcett brings business and marketing into schools, and he believes you cannot shield children from the real world.

"We have to live in the current communications era where children can see a huge amount of information," he told BBC TV news.

"We have to use our judgement and we have to, as an industry, make sure we are working with children and families, and not exploiting them."

Selling lifestyles

HAVE YOUR SAY Parents should be stronger at refusing the ridiculous demands for the latest gear at huge prices Hayley Smith Rotherham

The evidence on lifestyle is part of a six-part series of investigations published by the Children's Society for a continuing inquiry into childhood in the UK which brings together the views of academics, religious communities, teachers, local authorities and authors.

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is patron of the inquiry, said: "Children should be encouraged to value themselves for who they are as people rather than what they own.

"The selling of lifestyles to children creates a culture of material competitiveness and promotes acquisitive individualism at the expense of the principles of community and co-operation."

90% agree childhood more materialistic
69% agree violent video games make children more aggressive
90% believe Christmas advertising puts pressure on parents to spend more than they can afford
60% believe there should be a government ban on junk food advertising

One member of the childhood inquiry panel has warned that the commercial pressures on youngsters may have damaging psychological effects.

Professor Philip Graham, Emeritus Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Institute of Child Health in London, said: "One factor that may be leading to rising mental health problems is the increasing degree to which children and young people are preoccupied with possessions; the latest in fashionable clothes and electronic equipment.

"Evidence both from the United States and from the UK suggests that those most influenced by commercial pressures also show higher rates of mental health problems," he went on.

Junk food advertising

The poll found that an overwhelming majority, 90%, of adults thought that advertising to children at Christmas put pressure on parents to spend more than they can afford.

Sixty per cent of those questioned believed that children and young people's self esteem was being damaged by a negative portrayal of their age group in the media.

Women in the survey were more likely than men to think the media was causing the damage, with 63% agreeing, compared to 56% of men.

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Sixty-nine per cent of the sample thought violent video games made children more aggressive.

A majority of the adults questioned agreed that the government should ban advertising of unhealthy food.

One parent who admits to feeling the commercial pressures of parenthood is Zara Hobley, aged 35.

With three children between the ages of one and four, Mrs Hobley believes it is important to be able to teach them about discipline and boundaries.

"We're never going to beat the big companies that push impressive marketing campaigns but what we can do is equip ourselves and our children to be able to say no and not to feel bad about it."

Mrs Hobley said: "As parents we have a responsibility to teach our children how to cope with materialism. If we can teach them some kind of responsibility then I think that will work."

This theme is the fourth in the childhood inquiry; the previous ones have included friends, family and learning.

The first theme, published in June 2007, found that adult anxieties about the modern world were curtailing children's freedom to play with friends.

Over the next 12 months the inquiry will hold meetings on the remaining themes of health and values and a final report will be published in 2009.

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