Not so long ago, I was amazed to find that my neighbour’s six-year-old boy knew more brand names than I did, as he swept around identifying every gadget in my flat, from Dell, HP, to Sony. I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. The average 10-year-old is now aware of between 300 and 400 different brands. Young people are exposed to about 10,000 TV adverts per year, as well as pop-ups on the Internet.
A number of new studies, including a report by the government’s own Department for Children, Schools and Families, point to the serious damage to children’s health and education resulting from over-exposure to marketing.
Britain’s biggest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers, accuses companies of using psychologists to target children in a way that seriously damages their health and well-being. The NUT’s study, the most comprehensive to date, has found that marketing strategies are highly damaging, leading to ill-health and unhappiness. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia result from unrealistic expectations about what they “should” look like. NUT general secretary, Steve Sinnot says that teachers are increasingly concerned by the “lifestyle pressures exerted on children by the advertising and marketing industries…. There are dangerous consequences for the physical and mental health of young people.”
According to the media watchdog, Ofcom, 92% of advertising before 9pm is for products high in sugar, sale and fat. Perhaps most shocking is the fact that nearly three-quarters of seven-year-old girls want to be slimmer. More than half of children know that someone has been bullied for not owning the latest gadgets or clothing, and nearly a third are dissatisfied with the way they look.
Educationalist Sue Palmer, says, “Marketers’ interest in the under-10s is at an all-time high… They’re grooming children to be consumers from an early age – and since consumption doesn’t buy happiness, it’s not surprising that one in 10 children is now diagnosed with a mental disorder.” The only reassuring aspect of the wanton destruction of childhood by commercialisation is that children themselves are keenly aware of the damaging side of the pressure to wear the “right” labels and to conform. Nearly 70 per cent of them say there is too much pressure to look perfect and wear the latest fashions.
But none of this will deter the government, nor Brown’s right-hand man, Schools Secretary Ed Balls from his crusade to replace existing schools with “academies”, sponsored by big businesses, often with their own ideological agendas. In this, they are seamlessly aligned with pro-business councils, whether New Labour or Tory.
In Tory-controlled Westminster, for example, the iconic comprehensive, Pimlico School, is about to be handed over to a Tory party donor and venture capitalist, John Nash. Nash is a former chairman of the British Venture Capital Association, and chairman of a leading private equity provider, Sovereign Capital. The council is riding roughshod over the results of its own consultation about the future of the school which showed that 92% wanted it to remain a community comprehensive school, with 4% for trust and 4% academy. Pimlico School Association has also voted that the school should keep its current status.
10 December 2007