A mom recently asked for advice about her 11-year-old son, who likes to play with toys. Seems the other kids his age, aren’t much into action figures, like her son. She wonders if her son is abnormal and asks for suggestions on how he can make friends.
Sounds like she’s got a great kid. And I say “kid”, because our children grow up way too fast!!! Kids growing up before their time is a cultural phenomenon, resulting from children’s TV programming and advertising. This recent phenomenon is called age compression.
Sammy says sports are a good way for kids to make friends.
Marketers call age compression, “Kids Getting Older Younger” or KGOY. Kids today are treated as teens were a dozen years ago. KGOY is a parental concern and a marketer’s golden opportunity.
Two-thirds of parents indicate the television is on most mornings, and on 81 percent of the time in the evening. Many don’t understand the power of television and admit they use it as a babysitter. According to Barna Research, kids ages two to seven watch an average of twenty-five hours of TV a week! Advertisers target children, who see about 40,000 television ads per year. Of course the majority of commercials aimed at children are for candy, breakfast cereal, soda pop, junk and fast foods.
In fact, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found at least 80 percent of the ads shown on Nickelodeon are for junk foods! Dr. Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI, says, “Although children’s poor diets and rising childhood obesity rates are affected by many factors, one of the most important is food marketing. Studies show that food marketing attracts children’s attention, influences their food choices, and prompts them to request that their parents purchase products.”
Marketers think of children as cash cows and bombard them with advertising, using their favorite cartoon characters. They employ what the industry calls the “nag factor,” and “pester power” so kids will pester their parents to purchase worthless food. Product placement in movies and video games also increase children’s pester power.
Frequently, the manipulation of kids comes from a program or movie, not the commercials. The Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University warned parents the new SpongeBob movie is “essentially a ninety-minute commercial for junk food.”
What’s worse is that our babies and toddlers are now targeted. There is a zero to three market! Two-thirds of moms interviewed said their children asked for specific brands before the age of three. One-third said their kids were aware of brands by age two or even younger.
In addition to marketing to our babies, constant distractions are known to impair children’s cognitive development. Susan Thomas reports in her book, “Buy, Buy BABY,” a study done at the University of Massachusetts “…the seemingly benign practice of keeping the television running in the background at home can be disastrous for toddler’s development because it interferes with their ability to concentrate on their own activities. The study reported that one-year-olds’ focused play is reduced by half when the television is on, even if the children are not specifically tuning in to the programming…focused play is essential for little brains to grow.”