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How to combat 'junk culture'?

There was a recent article in the UK telegraph, Junk Culture 'is poisoning our children'. It revolves around a letter written by a group of child development professionals who claim that modern life leads to more depression among children.

Says Mardi:

It is a topic I've been thinking about, now I have a baby and I'm looking around at the world he'll grow up in. What do other mamas with older kids think about this newspaper article? Is anyone taking steps over limiting computers or tv and the like in their household? Having lived overseas for much of my life, the marketing machine in the US is particularly insidious in its reach over children I think.

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hi. my husband and i run a national non-profit to combat junk culture. it is called commercial alert. our mission is to protect communities and families from commercialism. it is based here in portland. check out our website, www.commercialalert.org, to learn more. there are lots of actions you can take online and here in town to stop junk culture. if you want to know more, call us at 503-235-8012.

Marnie, your website is fascinating, particularly the Parents' Bill of Rights. When UrbanMamas addressed the issue of tv before, I rededicated myself to limiting my son to 20 minutes of educational tv, after the baby went to sleep. Since then, the tv broke and we switched to 20 minutes of DVD, no commercials, and it's an improvement.

I just looked at commercialalert.org, too and what a great resource! Thanks for letting us know about it.

I just looked at commercialalert.org, too and what a great resource! Thanks for letting us know about it.

while i strongly agree that limiting television time and monitoring what is watched is the best thing we as parents can do, i also think denying ANY exposure to commercialism is as detrimental as too much exposure. If a child has no exposure, he or she will not learn to discern between what is real and what is put on the media to manipulate people. since our oldest (she's now 6.5) was 3, we've intentionally exposed her to commercialism as just that: an attempt at promoting commercial activities. We started by asking her to identify what was being sold. this was very easy for some ads, but the more abstract (or adult...like insurance) were difficult. as she got more proficient, we added the question "who do they want to sell the product/service to?". she's working on this now, and our next question will be on HOW are they making it appealing to the target market.

I think by educating children in this way, they're far more aware of the dispicable tactics used by commercial media. Instead of pretending it doesn't exist, we have 3 children who know it does, that it will continue to (no matter how idealistic we are), and they have the knowledge to combat its effects.

Thanks for sharing this article! I was just discussing this with my older brother, who has two kids, ages 7 and 9. He said that where he lives (in S. Cal.) there is a group of parents who are trying to reduce the amount of homework foisted on these kids. The teachers are giving homework to first graders that take hours to do. Families with two working parents have very limited time to spend with one another after school/pre-bedtime, so they don't want to have to spend it all on homework (when the amount of homework could be cut in half). Also, they worry that kids are getting enough play time, especially since PE has disappeared from many schools... to me, this is definitely worrisome. My son isn't in kindergarten yet, but I have a feeling I'll have a rude awakening when he starts in a year. Right now we have wonderful quality time after work and before bedtime on "school nights."

What such a short letter (which was signed by one of my favorite authors, philip pullman), did for me was to make me check my perspective. But not so much on junk culture--which is complicated and probably more nuanced than we who are a part of it can imagine and which was barely addressed in the letter except as a concept. Instead it made think about free fun. (More free than omsi.) Free like the library or the park or the living room or whathaveyou. It made me think about the fact that what I want to foster for my daughter more than anything--while she's learning to work hard and understand the world and treat people right and generally turning into a smartie--is to have a good time.

Another resource we've been tuned onto: http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org//. One recent issue the site highlights is product placement in a young adult book. The story will include Cover Girl product placement throughout the plot for promotional purposes. So many more aspects of our lives seem to be intruded upon.

We don't have a television.

I was raised without one (which made our family darn unusual in 70's/'80's suburban NJ) and, except for a brief period as a YA when I had one and saw what I'd missed - not much - I've lived without it all my life. Dh didn't have one when we met, so it was never an issue. Although as a kid I felt somewhat out of it, pop-culture-wise, as an adult, I wouldn't change the way I was raised, and I've always known I would raise my own kids without tv, in a house full of books, just the way I was.

My kids are 6 and 3. They entertain themselves, they love books, and they have minimal exposure to "junk culture". We don't discuss cartoon heroes, they aren't constantly re-creating scenes of violence they've watched (although they certainly come up with their own scenarios...), they don't pester me for fast food and other things they see on tv. (The candy aisle of Fred Meyer is enough as it is!).

However, just because my kids don't watch television does not mean that they are never exposed to commercialism of any kind. Commercialism is all around us. Billboards, ads in magazines and newspapers, murals downtown. We talk about this stuff with them, about how and why companies try to get you to look, think about, and buy their products. We don't pretend this kind of thing doesn't exist, but we don't think our kids need to be watching tv to learn about it. And I agree with Mardi that tv's marketing to kids is really intensified these days.

Many of my friends are able to and want to incorporate television into their lives, but for me, it's just not worth it for the very minimal amount of stuff out there that I'd consider letting my kids watch.

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