Children are in greater physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual danger now than at any other time during the life of this nation — and the threat is coming from a multi-billion dollar industry that is using the latest advances in psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience to transform children into profitable consumers from cradle to grave.
It’s no surprise that the pre-teen demographic has become a major draw for marketers and big business. There are presently 52 million kids under the age of 12 in the United States. These kids spend $40 billion of their own money on everything from clothes and music to toys and electronics annually, but more importantly, they influence an additional $700 billion in parental spending.
Unfortunately, the media onslaught begins early, often abetted by well-meaning parents who have bought into the trendy but unfounded “smart baby” pitches from media conglomerates selling Brainy Baby, Baby Einstein, and Baby Genius programs and products (Baby Einstein is a billion dollar industry). According to research reported in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 40 percent of infants are watching screen media regularly by the age of three months. Ninety percent are viewers by the age of two. The Federal Trade Commission has concluded that children ages 2-11 see more than 25,000 advertisements a year on TV alone. This does not include product placements.
The statistics bear this out: in their documentary, “Consuming Kids,” the Media Education Foundation reports that “Forty times as many young people are now being diagnosed with bipolar disorder than 13 years ago … Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: almost four and a half million children in this country have been diagnosed with ADHD … Doctors are writing a growing number of prescriptions for anti-depressants for children — as many as eight million a year.”
How did we get to the point where our children are treated as walking commodities? First and foremost, America has lost its moral compass. Without any overarching moral standard by which to hold anyone, whether it is a government official or corporate magnate, morally accountable, power and greed are left to prevail.
Second, along with the loss of a unifying cultural value system, any true sense of spirituality has been lost. This creates a spiritual void that American culture is attempting to fill with materialism.
Third, the bedrock of society — the family — is in serious trouble. An institution that once nurtured and protected children is now besieged from virtually every quarter. Approximately 50 percent of all marriages — even among professed evangelical Christians — end in divorce. And for the first time in American history, as the U.S. Census Bureau reports, married couples make up less than 50 percent of American households.
Fourth, technology is no friend to families or children. Technology, now essentially autonomous, destroys a vital control once exercised by parents.
Finally, the increasing loss of an overarching value system and the family structure has led to the destabilization of necessary societal “mediating structures” — neighborhoods, families, churches, synagogues, schools and voluntary associations. When they function as they should, mediating structures limit the growth of the government and promote freedom and democracy. But when these structures break down, society — that is, people — look to mega-structures, such as the state, as a source of values.
What, if anything, can be done? In various countries, laws curb television advertising aimed at children. For example, in Sweden and Norway, television advertisements are not permitted on programs directed specifically to children under the age of 12. Such laws as these are a good place to start. But with the overwhelming influence that American corporations wield, it is doubtful that any such protections will be passed into law in America.
Parents are going to have to limit access to televisions and computers, put away their cell phones and spend time with their children. Eat family meals together, take walks and avoid introducing your children to the consumer world of stores and malls.
Parents should set and enforce realistic limits for television watching and electronic game play. Above all, keep violent media programs and games away from young eyes.
Last, but not least, become politically active. Contact your local, state and national legislators and educators by way of phone calls, e-mails and letters and put pressure on government officials regarding measures to protect families and children. And contact local television and radio media outlets and do your best to get the message out that it’s time to stop the onslaught against our children.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.