One of the hardest things about raising green kids is that we live in an increasingly commercial culture. Some problems related to eco-friendly living and our current culture include:
- Excess stuff is not eco-friendly but excess stuff is pushed in our culture. It’s very hard to impress eco-friendly living skills upon kids when all they see is a more, more, more, must-have-it based society.
- Often the most glossy and promoted items for kids are not even close to eco-friendly. Case in point; green toys make up less than 1% of the entire toy market. Green toy sales are expected to rise to a whopping 5% in upcoming years, but of course that figure is still abysmally low. Organic foods are another example. While people are buying more organic foods, the foods marketed to kids are grossly non-organic and stuffed with fake colors, fake flavors, chemicals and other nonsense.
- Celebrating green holidays is hard when you have kids AND friends and family members who aren’t on board with green living. You may invest time in green holidays, only to have your plans smeared by relatives who refuse to believe holidays can be more than lots of gifts and bling.
How rampant is commercialism?
Very. The push of commercialism is huge among kids and has negative consequences. The Campaign for A Commercial Free Childhood has collected an impressive amount of research (pdf) related to kids and marketing and notes the following:
- Marketing directly to children is a factor in the childhood obesity epidemic. A new study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity shows a relationship between licensed characters on junk food packaging and children’s taste and snack preferences. In the study, children tasted pairs of identical foods presented in packages either with or without a popular cartoon character. Children were significantly more likely to chose — and prefer the taste of snacks when a licensed cartoon character appeared on the package.
- Marketing encourages eating disorders, precocious sexuality, youth violence and family stress and contributes to a child’s diminished capability to play creatively.
- Just as young children are developing their gender identities, they are flooded with ads for products promoting sexualized stereotypes. For example, there are 40,000 Disney Princess items on the market today.
- Companies spend about $17 billion annually marketing to children.
- Children under 14 spend about $40 billion annually while teens spend about $159 billion.
- This generation of children is the most brand conscious generation ever. Teens between 13 and 17 have 145 conversations about brands per week, about twice as many as adults.
- Children ages 2-11 see more than 25,000 advertisements a year on TV alone, not including product placement.
- Until the age of about 8 children do not understand advertising’s persuasive intent.
- Very young children can’t distinguish between commercials and program content; even older children sometimes fail to recognize product placement as advertising.
Beyond the basics, commercialism is turning out non-green kids. A recent study noted that the more materialistic a child, the less likely they were to participate in eco-activities, like turning lights off and taking shorter showers. That same eco-study noted that materialistic children tend to be less happy, report anxiety, and feel less secure than less materialistic children.
Marketers control our kids AND how we parent. Big time. If you doubt that, check this out…
- In 2003, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists accepted a $1 million grant from Coke and then announced that, “Hey, Coke’s not so bad for teeth as we thought.” Lame.
- In 2009, The American Academy of Family Physicians also kicked off a corporate partnership program with the Coca-Cola Company. Luckily it hasn’t seemed to affect their take on drinking sugary soda (i.e. it’s not healthy) but it’s a little weird for health promoting individuals to accept money from Coke.
- Just this week, the new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) health report F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing America was released and Pepsi got a two page spread in said report. Odd since RWJF is not only the nation’s largest health care foundation, but their major goal is to “Reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015.” Reverse the obesity epidemic with what? Pepsi?
- One review of school supplies found that over 80% of supplies had biases for consumption or commercialism of some sort.
What parents can do:
It is important to raise kids in a way that questions vs. embraces commercial culture. However, how we should accomplish this depends on who you ask.
Most child health organizations note that you should turn off the TV and quit buying junk food to fight commercialism. But really, should you shun commercials? Is that 100% realistic? I think avoidance is a nice band-aid but it doesn’t really raise smart green consumer-savvy kids right?
I agree that commercialism sucks eggs, but avoiding it is like telling a kid, “You can’t go to the beach anymore because the beach is covered in garbage and if you see that you might quit recycling.” Not realistic.
Coming up: some better ideas for dealing with commercialism and kids. Ideas that don’t amount to putting a bandage on the top of the topic.
What do you think about marketing to kids? How have your kids been affected?