Monday, December 22, 2008

Seeing through marketing schemes

One of the books I've been reading the past several months is giving me a deeper insight into the world of marketing for children. With the increasingly manipulative nature of advertising, it seems that almost nothing is left untouched by commercialization. "Buy this! Buy that! Must-have's! The 'it' bag!" and other such alluring strategies just get to me from time to time. What's worse is that many people fail to see through all the hype and actually fall for notions that imply that a particular product is what they need to be complete, or having a particular body type or some trendy hair style will make them better persons. But that's generally for grownups.

When children are spared from exposure to the consumer culture, they're happier and healthier, and they enjoy better family relationships. Studies have already shown this. However, in this respect, it's the parents who fall for the sometimes-false claims of marketers, because marketers know how to play on the insecurities of parents. And doing this will make their products move.

Back to the book I'm reading. It's called Buy, Buy Baby: How consumer culture manipulates parents and harms young minds, by investigative journalist Susan Gregoy Thomas who used to be a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report, and it's pretty revealing. I'm sharing an excerpt from the Introduction. Maybe over the next few weeks I'll type more portions that I think parents ought to be aware of, if only to help them make better choices when it comes to their families' media awareness, media consumption and consumer culture.


Problem-solving deficit disorder

Still, in the past decade something unique, and uniquely concerning, has been unfolding with the past decade's development of a baby and toddler market. For one, the long-term impact of the baby genius phenomenon may be anything but educational. Many in the field of early child development suspect that babies and toddlers reared on TV, videos, and blinking, beeping "smart" toys may ultimately suffer from cognitive problems. Diane E. Levin, a professor in the early childhood education department at Wheelock College in Boston, calls the phenomenon "problem-solving deficit disorder." Levin contends that such products essentially overstimulate very young children, so that instead of using their own resources to solve a problem or an uncomfortable feeling -- Mom is in the shower, boredom, and so on -- they apply those resources to processing the dazzling object that has been placed before them. Over time, Levin says, babies and toddlers accustomed to getting this kind of sensory "hit" when they feel uncomfortable may not just become dependent on having that hit but may even lose the ability to work through feelings and ideas independently or with the help of a trusted friend. Marie Anzalone, who is on the faculty of Columbia University's occupational therapy program, reports that she frequently treats very young children from low-income as well as upper-middle-class families who appeared glazed over and numb, which she believes is an ingrained response to overstimulation from technology toys and television. These toddlers simply cannot integrate the sensory overload to which they are routinely subjected; to cope, they begin to tune out.

Constant distractions are known to impair children's cognitive development in other ways, too. A University of Massachusetts study conducted by the preeminent academic researcher Daniel R. Anderson on the effects of television on young children showed that even the seemingly benign practice of keeping the television running in the background at home can be disastrous for toddler's development because it interferes with their ability to concentrate on their own activities. The study reported that one-year-olds' focused play is reduced by half when the television is on, even if the children are not specifically tuning in to the programming. Focused play -- which, as the celebrated preschool pioneer Maria Montessori pointed out, is the work of childhood -- is essential for normal cognitive development. In other words, it is essential for little brains to grow.

(emphasis mine)

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