January 2nd, 2007

TV Ads Stress Children

By Sean Scanlon
The Press (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Children are getting stressed and depressed by marketing that grooms them for a lifetime of consumerism, new research says.

The study says marketing and commercialisation is putting pressure on children to keep up with images of how they should look and what they should own.

New Zealand psychologists say the report, by British-based social issues think-tank Compass, backs research that shows overexposure to television can cause problems for children.

Compass researcher Zoe Williams said the impact of commercialisation on children should not be ignored.

“Bombarded with images of how they should look and what they should own, children struggle to keep up, suffering from stress, anxiety, increasingly lower satisfaction with themselves and their lives, and poorer relationships with others,” she said.

“Girls are being sold lacy underwear even before they reach their teenage years.”

Williams said the question had to be asked: who was “forming our children?” The report said commercialisation could hurt children’s health through the aggressive marketing of junk food.

Child development could also be affected by new toys that did not push children to learn for themselves, it said.

Child psychologist Sarah Chatwin, of Auckland, said the report’s findings were in keeping with some of the children she dealt with who suffered from stress and anxiety.

The British study matched recent New Zealand research.

However, Chatwin said it was dangerous to make broad generalisations on the impact of commercialisation and marketing on children.

Some companies used psychologists to ensure their advertising did not cause problems for children.

“I have more of a problem with the hard-sell advertising using nasty or subliminal messages,” she said.

It was difficult to measure whether children’s behavioural problems were the result of overexposure to television and commercialisation or bad parenting.

Chatwin said some products and advertisements broke down the barriers between the adult and child worlds too soon. These could include products targeted at young girls, which included items such as lacy underwear.

“That type of marketing is what I am more concerned about. Some children are older and bolder before their time,” she said. Chatwin said children did not have the cognition to deal with that kind of “stuff”.

Otago University researchers recently found that when weekends and holidays were taken into account, some New Zealand children could spend more time in front of the television than they did in the classroom. 


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