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Commercialism is harming children's lives


Bob Reitemeier

The Childrenıs Society
February 27, 2008



Childhood is big business. With an estimated £30 billion market in which children make purchases or have an influence on family spending, we can no longer ignore the impact of commercialisation on children's lives.

Evidence to the Good Childhood Inquiry demonstrates the extent of concern among professionals and other adults.

Children themselves told us about the stark choices they have to make in the face of the many pressures on them to keep up with the latest trends in clothing, toys and games.

Children are increasingly being marketed to in ways that were inconceivable when most of today's adults were growing up.

One of the current concerns is the use of an unregulated internet and online gaming to market to children.

Increasingly concern is being voiced that the line between childhood and adulthood is becoming blurred, driving children to a premature adulthood and, at the same time, appealing to adults' desire to return to their youth.

For some young people who are looking with impatient anticipation towards adulthood, buying is seen as an escape route to becoming an adult.

The trappings of perceived maturity are there, without the underlying experience. But marketing isn't restricted to targeting teenagers.

The line between younger children and adulthood is also becoming less clear.

Fashion is pervasive and children are more than ever aware of their appearance, sometimes with disturbing results as they mimic adult dress with more overtly sexual nuances than most of us should be happy with.

It's interesting that shopping is now viewed as a pastime to many, rather than a necessary activity, replacing outdoor play, youth clubs and other activities that children say they want more of.

The Good Childhood Inquiry calls on all of us to honestly reflect on the impact of all of these pressures on our young people.

Not surprisingly, poor children and their families are most likely to be adversely affected by the pressures to consume.

Outside of lifting people out of poverty, we know that material gain does not in itself lead to a better life and yet it is this very notion on which much of today's advertising is predicated.

The challenge is how, in the face of the reality of a consumerist society, we teach our children and young people the value of other realities.

How can we, for example, demonstrate that it is the quality and nature of our relationships that really determines the quality of our lives?

Perhaps in this respect it is children themselves that have most to teach us.

When asked by the inquiry what makes for a good childhood and a good life, relationships with family and friends came out on top for children.

As a society we should welcome that message and be brave enough to heed it.


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