Childhood – bought, sold or lost?

This week I made my first presentation as part of the Mothers’ Union Bye Buy Childhood Campaign. Due to the weather conditions ‘Who’s Buying our Children’s Childhood’ was shared with a very small group, but together we produced some interesting reflections and ideas which I bring together here to see what you think. Please make good use of the comment facility!

1. We were thinking about how media and marketing impacts on what children are willing to eat, one of the group noted that cheaper food products (usually the value version of supermarket brands) usually have higher levels of sugar and salt making it difficult to maintain healthy diets on a tight budget.

Why is this the case? What can we do about it?

2. Research quoted in the Bye Buy Childhood Report (which is full of supporting, referenced statistics) suggests that materialism (the need for ‘stuff’) can develop in children as young as 7. We all felt that we see materialism existing in children as young as 4!

At what age do you think children start recognising that money buys ‘stuff’ and they want more of what money can buy?

3. David Cameron has suddenly made happiness a buzz-word and opened a debate saying by saying that money doesn’t necessarily make you happy. Research quoted in the Bye Buy Childhood report suggests that the need to accumulate material possessions contributes to stress, poor self esteem and relationships difficulties. If this is the case, then if the government wants to raise the nations happiness they they need to provide stimuli and mechanisms to reduce our own, and our children’s materialism.

Would changes in the regulation of advertising, especially marketing directed towards products that children might desire, help effect an improvement in our children’s mental health and happiness? If so, what changes?

4. My science teacher husband says one of the positive educational uses of the TV and films, is giving children cultural reference points to ideas he is trying to put across in the classroom. His prime example is…

Which particular TV programmes encourage children to ask questions of the world in which they live, and engage with the ideas behind the stories or images?

5. ComRes research for the Mothers’ Union report suggests that

80% of parents believe that films and video games with sexual or violent themes can be accessed too easily by children; and 80% also believe that television, films, magazines and the internet make children sexually aware at a younger age than they would be otherwise.

Anecdotal evidence from the group led to surprise at how high these figures were. One parent gave an example of querying with other parents the content of what she felt to be an inappropriate dance video at a school disco for 4 year olds, and finding that other parents didn’t think there was a problem with the suggestive movements or clothing shown.

Are parents concerned about the impact of clothing styles and body posture on young children?

6. The Old Testament Proverb “Train children in the right way, and when older, they will not stray.” (Proverbs 22:6) suggests that teaching good purchasing and media usage principles by example, will help our children avoid in adulthood difficulties with physical and mental health, and relationships.

Does the pressure on all generations from the media to ‘consume’ (despite the economic environment) make parental example lived with integrity, less and less a realistic way of handing down values that will benefit our children?

Whilst writing this post a friend in continental Europe sent me this interesting post he found: Childhood isn’t a race! This recent post from Right Revd Paul Butler is also good, suggesting our children’s education is actually benefited by a few snow days when they get outside, away from the classroom and the TV and learn and exercise for free, perhaps even without realising it!

Do I think childhood has been bought, sold or lost? Well, the answer I think, is only if we let it be! Childhood isn’t a race and it’s really up to us, the parents, to make sure that children get the childhood they deserve – and though it’s hard work, it’s worth it!



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