What Children Need To Thrive

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If you’re feeling a post-holiday consumerist hangover, these bracing words from Susan Linn will help. Linn is director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and author of “The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World.” She writes in The New York Times:

“Modern science tells us what young children need to thrive. They need shelter, nourishment and the kind of love manifest in positive face time with caring adults. They need to explore the world with the entire range of their senses through hands-on active and creative play — both alone and with other kids. They need time in nature.

What they don’t need is to be targets for corporate marketing. Commercialism isn’t the only threat to children’s well-being, but their designation as a consumer group undermines their growth and development. Childhood obesity, sexualization and youth violence are all linked to advertising and marketing. So are excessive materialism and the erosion of the kind of creative play so essential to learning. Yet today we grant marketers virtually unfettered access to children.

Children need opportunities to find joy and meaning in what can’t be bought, like friendship, creativity, love and the natural world.

Marketing to children has been escalating since the 1980s, when corporate interests forced the deregulation of children’s television and severely limited the government’s capacity to regulate advertising aimed at children. These days, companies spend billions marketing to children, employing child psychologists to hone ads designed to exploit kids’ developmental vulnerabilities. And new screen technologies are so sophisticated and invasive that marketing is now omnipresent in the lives of many children, and can be targeted to meet individual interests and desires.

Research disproves the spin that child-targeted advertising helps kids become more discerning consumers. Exposure actually increases both susceptibility to marketing and materialistic values, which lead to excessive consumption. Children have not yet developed the cognitive capacities for mature judgment, making them more vulnerable to advertising than adults—and adults are plenty vulnerable.

Children need to learn how to manage consumption, not how to be consumers. That’s learned best through opportunities to find joy and meaning in what can’t be bought, like friendship, creativity, love and the natural world. Kids need commercial-free time and space to develop internal resources essential to differentiating marketing hype from authenticity — a capacity for critical thinking, a rich inner life and a sturdy sense of self apart from what’s for sale.” (Read more here.)

Words to live by in the new year.

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One Response to “What Children Need To Thrive”

  1. Lisa Orchard says:

    I agree! Great article!

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