Too much, too young?

The Prime Minister announced plans this month to extend parental warnings to cover music videos – not something that on its own will turn the tide on everyday sexism and violence, but very welcome all the same.

It also marks another suggestion from the 2009 book, Consumer Kids, by Agnes Nairn and I to make it into the real world.

Companies now spend tens of millions of pounds marketing to children. The advertising plays on young people’s vulnerabilities and sell them back to them – you will fit in, you will be beautiful, you will be happy … If you just buy this.

Is this true?

Well, beyond any initial buzz, obviously not. But there is also something of a hidden cost that comes with this tide of marketing.

The truth is that the more children are exposed to commercialism, the more materialistic they are encouraged to become. Materialism means that your self-esteem starts to rely more from what you own rather than who you are. This holds for a variety of age groups.

If anything has been learned about the nature of happiness, from the days of the Greek philosophers through to the work of positive psychologists and neuro-scientists today, it is that young people need inner strength and understanding to flourish – not materialism. Children need warm bonds of friendship with their peers – not competitive consumption. They need strong relationships with their parents – not the alienation that can be encouraged by marketing. They need to be occupied in projects which work for the common good of a community.

In an increasingly commercial world, the odds can be stacked against achieving this.

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