My name is Emma. This is my feminism.

Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood

on May 6, 2012

Every parent or future parent should watch this.  Anyone who talks about ‘kids these days’ should watch this.  Every teacher or future teacher should watch this.  Every daycare worker or future daycare worker should watch this.  Basically, everyone should watch this.

Obviously, this is about kids (my other passion), and is not explicitly feminist, but I think consumerism is absolutely a feminist issue.  I have learned a lot about consumerism through feminism, and I think there is a lot of overlap between the two. 

It is scary how much time, money, and energy is put into manipulating children.  Some of the research methods that marketers use are really creepy, including following children around (including during bath time) and watching how they interact with their environment and the products in it.  They watch children watch commercials and record how many times the children blink, and then switch to commercials which are more mesmerizing.  They study child development, so they know that toddlers like slow motion commercials with soft, circular shapes.  They know that by 6 months of age, children can recognize brands, and they want to make sure that those babies recognize their brand. 

One thing I’m starting to recognize as a trend from marketers and corporations trying to sell a product is that they will come right out and say “I don’t know if it’s ethical, but it makes me money.”  I know that companies want to make money above all else, but I’m surprised that these people are so open about it.  I often wonder how they sleep at night, and I used to think that they lied to themselves.  But obviously, they’re not lying to themselves, and they’re not even lying to us.  They don’t care at all about the ethics of what they’re selling or how they’re selling it, as long as it makes money.

But interestingly, if you talk about the negative consequences of advertising, an easy one being obesity*, those same marketers will essentially say that their ads don’t affect behaviour.  Kids could play outside if they wanted.  This is interesting because I don’t really know why any advertisers would have jobs, or why so much money would be devoted to producing effective ads if they had no affect on behaviour.  But maybe that’s the lie they tell themselves so they can sleep at night?

According to this documentary, the States is the only country in the industrialized world that has no regulations on children’s advertising.  Gotta love freedom of speech.  Lucky for us, almost everything on TV in Canada is American.  Super.  So it’s basically our kids vs. a multi-billion dollar industry and extremely educated individuals.  That’s fair right?

No.  So what do we do?  This documentary didn’t talk too much about media literacy, but it is clearly essential in attempting to combat all these messages from advertisers.  Even if you remove TV and the internet and cell phones and magazines from your home, kids are going to go out into the world.  So limiting their media consumption in your own home is not enough.  We have to teach them how to be critical of the media that they will inevitably be exposed to.

It’s crazy to think about teaching this to kids when I’m just learning how to do it myself, and most people I know aren’t really critical of the media they consume.  It’s hard to do, especially when it’s so ingrained and seems so natural, like representations of femininity and masculinity.  Maybe you can watch a toy commercial and think “that’s stupid, I can just use make believe to build that myself.”  But it’s more difficult when you think about the what the commercial is implicitly selling, like the fact that it’s always a girl playing with the Barbie and always a boy playing with the super-muscled action figure. 

This is something we all need to be aware of.  It is not just something that targets children, although it is arguably much scarier when it does.  We need to redefine what success and happiness mean.  We need to recognize that we are not what we own, but who we are.  When I first started trying to think like this, I found it almost impossible.  And I think that should piss us off.  That commercialism has so completely invaded our minds that we can’t comprehend being the kind of person that we want to be without a cute dress or a nice house or a lot of money.  But, kind of like feminism, I have found that the more I practiced thinking that way, the easier it has gotten.  And I am certainly not innocent of consuming unnecessary shit, but I am starting to see how fucked it is.  I was in a mall today (buying an amazing pair of shoes that I absolutely don’t need and are not practical in any way), and I felt like everyone walking around in there with me was a zombie, completely brainwashed by capitalism into thinking that they need the newest whatever.  But how could it be anything different when we have been programmed from birth to consume.

Thinking this way really leaves us empty.  There is a positive correlation between children’s screen time and likelihood of anxiety and depression, and this is not at all surprising.  Thinking that these superficial, material things will make you happy will inevitably disappoint.  Being sat in front of a TV because your parent thinks that Baby Einstein will make you smarter** instead of bonding with your parents or siblings or friends is not going to fulfill your needs.  And isn’t that the point?  If what we bought actually did satisfy us and make us the perfect people that we wanted to be and make everyone like us, we wouldn’t need to buy more things.  If we weren’t constantly and futilely trying to fill a void in ourselves with products, companies would stop making money.  And obviously, that would be no good. 

Imagine if we could all teach our children to be critical of this system.  Imagine if all our children thought that kindness and morality and happiness were actually more important than money (because clearly many of us adults don’t believe that).  Imagine the world that they would create when they are the ones controlling it.  It would undoubtedly be a more beautiful world than they one we are creating for them.


The whole documentary is on YouTube.  It’s just over an hour, and totally worth watching.  I think it is one of those documentaries that will change how you look at the world forever, even if you don’t want it to.  I highly recommend watching it.  Extremely smart, educated people are spending billions of dollars and working their whole lives to manipulate your children in order to make a profit.  Spend an hour to learn about what they’re doing, why it’s harmful and how to counteract it.


*because kids playing outside produces very little profit when compared with mechanical toys which you essentially sit and watch or electronics, and kids playing outside cannot be bombarded with more advertising as easily.

**There is no evidence that Baby Einstein or other “educational” media is beneficial in any way to children, only to the companies who make billions of dollars selling it.  In fact, children who watch “educational” DVDs tend to have smaller vocabularies than children who don’t.

I also want to say how much I appreciate the Occupy movement for trying to change this system for us all.  I am the 99%, and I’m with you all in spirit… even though I start my new job tomorrow.

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