Parents are faced with a huge challenge every time their child is awake. That challenge has to do with limiting the amount of media input their son or daughter is potentially subjected to any (or should I say "every") hour of the day or night. What they think, how they think, whether they think is largely dependent on the input received and then reinforced over and over again. I still remember the exact words of the Crest toothpaste commercial that I saw many times while watching TV in my home as a youngster. If you don't believe me, just ask and I perform for you on cue like some alien robot. I memorized that commercial not because I wanted to memorize it or because I was told to do so but because I was exposed to it so often over weeks and months that it just got lodged in my brain and so deeply lodged that I can recite it fully some forty years later. It's actually a bit scary. What other media "stuff" formed my thinking processes and even relational DNA during those formative years?
So, how do you, as a parent, respond to this daily assault on the minds and even hearts of your precious children? Al Baker has some helpful information for you in a recent article that I thought (given the many kids we have at Westminster) would be helpful to our moms, dads and grandparents.
- Pastor Gary R. Cox
FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS, volume 9, number 46, November 25, 2010
Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking, Romans 12:2.1
Selling to Five Year Olds
Do you remember when Britney Spears burst onto the adolescent culture scene in 1999? She was so wholesome, claiming to be a Christian and a virgin. Her persona has noticeably morphed over the years and she is now making a comeback, much like her idol Madonna. Both have re-invented themselves many times. Is this an accident or is this a well orchestrated marketing plan, and so what, what difference does it make?
Walt Mueller writes in “How to Make a Pop Star”2 of how in 2005 he attended a conference for marketers on how successfully to market to children ages two to twelve. Yes, you read correctly—age two to twelve. Mueller says that a woman from Virgin Records, who claims to be the one responsible for Britney’s stardom, outlined how she did it, and how they continue to make pop stars. First, she said they had to put Britney in the public eye and portray her as the All American girl. Why? She had to grab the attention of children. Then their mothers, the gatekeepers to the family and the pocketbook holders, had to approve of Britney as wholesome if there was any hope of selling music, tickets, and merchandise. Believe it or not, the target audience reached down to four and five year olds!
But second, marketers realize that kids grow up, their bodies and their likes change. More specifically, they tend to rebel when they reach puberty, or at the very least, wish to have more independence, so the last thing an adolescent wants is Mom’s approval of his or her music. So in order for Britney, Christina, Jessica, and Madonna and their sponsors to keep making money these pop icons must reinvent themselves. So Britney developed an edge to her, a wild streak that upsets parents, but endears her to teens who want to “breakaway” from parental authority. So, this is no accident. It is all so well orchestrated! That’s right—your five year old, even now is being manipulated by marketers, right before your very eyes!
In her book Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers,3 Alissa Quart says that children are treated just like any natural resource to be mined and refined. It’s all about making money. Marketers to teens prey on teens’ need to belong, to be accepted. So a teen will “die” if he or she is perceived as uncool, outside the desired group. Marketers know that and spend billions of dollars to tell kids that they must have the right clothes to make it work in their world. This is especially true of print magazines which target young girls, solidifying in them “feelings of economic and taste inadequacy.” And parents are a large part of the problem because they tend to substitute DVD players, TiVo, and iPad’s for meaningful parent/child relationships.
Not allowing yourself and your children to be conformed to the world, of not being squeezed into its mold, of not becoming so well adjusted to our culture that you and your children fit into it without even thinking—does not just happen. It takes intentionality. My friend Ted Baehr gives chilling evidence on the detrimental effects of television and movies on the cognitive development of young children. He says the average child gets about twenty-one minutes per day of primary attention from their parents while spending over ten hours per day with the Internet and TV. So by the time a child is seventeen years old he has spent 63,000 hours with mass media, 11,000 hours in school, and 800 hours in church (assuming he has gone one hour every week since birth).4 Even more ominous is how television and movies fail to allow the viewer to reflect, react, or review the information just received, something absolutely critical to cognitive development. Baehr quotes John Rosemond in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution who says, “The next time your child watches television look at him instead of the screen. Ask yourself, ‘What is he doing?’ Better yet, ask yourself, ‘What is he not doing?’ He is not practicing motor skills, gross or fine. He is not practicing eye-hand coordination. He is not using more than two senses. He is not asking questions. He is not exploring. He is not exercising initiative or imagination. He is not being challenged. He is not solving problems. He is not thinking analytically. He is not practicing communication skills. He is not being creative or constructive.” Furthermore, television does not promote long term attention, nor does it promote logical, sequential thinking. Rosemond concludes by saying these are all marks of learning-disabled children who don’t seem to get it all together when it comes to learning how to read and write.5
What then, parents, should you do to mitigate the marketing manipulation and cultural corruption being foisted on your five year olds? I am not saying you must place a moratorium on TV or DVD’s. I am saying, however, that you surely ought significantly to limit the exposure of your children, whatever their age, to these mind-numbing, soul-destroying, character corrupting machines. A good friend of mine, whose children are now in college, and incredibly bright, well adjusted, and pursuing Christ, told me that he limited his children’s screen time (whether TV, DVD’s, or Internet) to something like one hour per day. The rest of their time was spent reading, exploring, practicing their musical instruments, playing outside, and asking questions. Having your children play with other children whose parents hold Christian values like you is also vitally important. When our children were very young, we monitored carefully those with whom we allowed them to play. As they grew older, we allowed them to have non-Christian friends, especially in our home where we could control the activities, and later in the homes of their friends, provided our children had proven their spiritual maturity by not caving into peer-pressure. Finally, as your children gain the security of your love and the Father’s love, they will be less prone toward “needing to belong.” So, do you need to make changes? Is your child’s cognitive ability being stunted? Is he being manipulated by Madison Avenue? What will you do?