(NaturalNews) Parents, educators and anyone interested in how children in the US are affected by the media will want to watch "Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood." The film, available for viewing online (www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uUU7cjfcdM), traces the connection between the full-scale media immersion children are subject to and rising levels of childhood obesity, hypertension, ADD and other diseases.
This brief (66 minutes) documentary looks at the explosion in US children's advertising following deregulation in 1980. The filmmakers delineate how the snowballing effect of increased advertising to children since that time, combined with advances in media technology, resulted in a 40% per year increase, over a thirty year period, in the level of consumer spending directly influenced by children. The film reveals that the annual amount of child-influenced consumer spending in this country reached an astounding $700 billion dollars in 2010.
Filmmakers Adriana Barbaro and Jeremy Earp interview a range of experts including child psychiatrists and family advocates about the effects of advertising on children. They intersperse these interviews with clips of marketing experts discussing how to use psychology to recruit children into brand loyalty. A clip of one child psychiatrist likening these marketing experts to pedophiles seems extreme -- but is followed by a clip of a marketing expert talking about "branding and owning children."
The film reveals many facets of advertising to children that some parents may be unaware of, including how closely marketers study children and how they reach children without parental knowledge. "Scientific stalking" is how one expert characterizes marketing companies research into child behavior which now ranges from measuring blink rates of toddlers watching media clips to MRI observation of child brain activity while viewing films. Marketers employ child psychology experts who advise them on the different techniques to use to engage the toddler market or the toddler's slightly older siblings.
Stealth marketing takes place through an organization known as the GIA (Girls Intelligence Agency) which uses product placement at slumber parties. Marketing to children is ubiquitous, with many cash-strapped schools accepting sponsorship from corporations, meaning brand names are present even while children study. Cell phones which many parents buy their children for safety and communication purposes become another avenue for corporations to reach young consumers with games and other content. Many websites offering games for children are actually an opportunity for corporations to learn more about individual children in order to engage in "microtargetting."
The film notes that advertisers are reaching children at increasingly young ages. Only very high-end stores now carry baby products which do not bear the image of one media character or another, meaning most middle and lower income parents are forced to buy products imprinted with popular characters. Children are especially susceptible to these characters, explains one child psychiatrist interviewed in the film because the familiar faces form touchstones of stability which make children feel secure during changes of growth and development. The psychiatrist expresses his concern that the US is raising "a generation of superconsumers."
The film also debunks the myth of "good media as an antidote to bad media." Companies which sell videos such as Baby Einstein, filmmakers explain make millions of dollars yet there is no evidence that watching these films increases intelligence. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen media at all for children under two. There is evidence that prolonged and regular exposure to media can result in concentration difficulties.
The filmmakers note that among industrialized nations, only the US lacks any regulations protecting children from this kind of aggressive advertising. The consequences of rampant advertising are visible in the physical and emotional health of a child as they participate less frequently in active, creative play and more often in passive screen time. As one child advocate interviewed in the film notes "We have laws about child safety, putting helmets on kids, tobacco marketing to kids, but somehow we think it's OK to make children fair game to marketers who want to profit from them, irrespective of the impact on their health and well-being."