Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood

Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood
New Documentary Film Premiering in Northampton (2009)

The consumer embryo begins to develop during the first year of existence.  Children begin their consumer journey in infancy.  And they certainly deserve consideration as consumers at that time.

– James U. McNeal | Pioneering Youth Marketer

This unsettling quote by a “Pioneering Youth Marketer” opens the critically-acclaimed new documentary film, Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood. Produced locally by the Northampton-based Media Education Foundation (MEF), Consuming Kids zeroes in on the increasingly brazen practices of the multibillion-dollar youth marketing industry in the wake of deregulation, exposing how marketers have used the latest advances in psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience to target American children and transform them into one of the most influential and profitable consumer demographics in the world.

I was glued to my seat as I watched a review copy of this film, feeling the heat of anger rising up into my cheeks as I learned how marketers are scheming to influence my kid (our kids) to consume their products… for life! My family doesn’t watch commercial television in our home, so it shocked me to see the different television ads aimed at marketing to children, trying to sell them everything from junk food to the family car. But as the film reveals, advertising to our kids isn’t found just on the TV, it’s also found on the school bus, the classroom, cell phones, the internet, movies, and even churches. It’s insidious!

Offering a time-line tracing the evolution and impact of this unprecedented phenomenon, Consuming Kids illustrates how the childhood of American kids has become commercialized and explores how the effect of hyperconsumerism impacts the actual lived experiences of our children.

I think the thing that upsets me the most is that it’s not just products that are being marketed to children, but values. And the primary value that’s being sold to kids over and over and over again is the value that things or stuff or brands will make us happy.

– Susan Linn | Director, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood



MEF has provided readers with both a study guide (click here) and a comprehensive list (below) of organizations, books, and articles to accompany the film Consuming Kids.
  • Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME)
  • Action Coalition for Media Education is a global coalition run by and for media educators, whose mission is to democratize our media system through education and activism.
  • Alliance for Childhood
  • The Alliance for Childhood uses public education campaigns to promote policies and practices that support children’s healthy development, love of learning, and joy in living, therefore creating a more just, democratic, and ecologically responsible future.
  • American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
  • The AACAP (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) is the leading national professional medical association dedicated to treating and improving the quality of life for children, adolescents, and families affected by youth mental, behavioral, or developmental disorders.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 pediatricians committed to the attainment of optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
  • Association for Curriculum and Supervision Development (ASCD)
  • ASCD is a membership organization that develops programs, products, and services essential to the way educators learn, teach, and lead.
  • California Project LEAN
  • California Project LEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition) (CPL) is a joint program of the California Department of Health Services and the Public Health Institute focusing on youth empowerment, policy and environmental change strategies, and community-based solutions. CPL’s mission is to increase healthy eating and physical activity to reduce the prevalence of obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
  • Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood
  • Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is a national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups, parents, and individuals whose mission is to reclaim childhood from corporate marketers.
  • Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids
  • Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids acts to change public attitudes and public policies on tobacco in order to prevent kids from smoking, help smokers quit and protect everyone from secondhand smoke.
  • Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment (C-CAVE)
  • Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment (C-CAVE) is an independent national non-profit public interest organization committed to increasing public awareness about the effects of cultural violence on society.
  • Center for Informed Food Choices
  • The Center for Informed Food Choices (CIFC) advocates for a diet based on whole, unprocessed, local, organically grown plant foods. CIFC believes that: placing these foods at the center of the plate is crucial for promoting public health, protecting the environment, and assuring the humane treatment of animals and food industry workers.
  • Center for a New American Dream
  • The Center for a New American Dream helps Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice.
  • Center on Media and Child Health
  • The Center on Media and Child Health conducts, coordinates and compiles scientific research to improve the understanding of how media affect children’s health in positive and negative ways and provides evidence-based expertise to initiatives and programs that address children’s involvement with media.
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)
  • CSPI seeks to educate the public, advocate government policies that are consistent with scientific evidence on health and environmental issues, and counter industry’s powerful influence on public opinion and public policies.
  • Center for Screen Time Awareness
  • Center for SCREEN-TIME Awareness provides information so people can live healthier lives in functional families in vibrant communities by taking control of the electronic media in their lives, not allowing it to control them.
  • Children Now: Children and the Media Program
  • Children Now is recognized as a leading national public policy organization working to ensure children have a healthy and diverse media environment.
  • The Children’s Society
  • The Children’s Society is a leading national charity, driven by the belief that every child deserves a good childhood. The Children’s Society provides help and understanding for those forgotten children who are unable to find the support they need anywhere else.
  • Citizens’ Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools (CCCS)
  • The Citizens’ Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools (CCCS) is a statewide grassroots, nonprofit organization based in Seattle, Washington, whose mission is to protect the right of Washington children and youth to a commercial-free education.
  • Commercial Alert
  • Commercial Alert’s mission is to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.
  • Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU)
  • The Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder partners with the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) and the Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU) at Arizona State University to produce policy briefs and think tank reviews. These centers provide a variety of audiences, both academic and public, with information, analysis, and insight to further democratic deliberation regarding educational policies.
  • Common Sense Media
  • Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the media and entertainment lives of kids and families by providing trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.
  • Concerned Educators Allied for a Safe Environment (CEASE)
  • CEASE is a network of parents, teachers and other concerned individuals who are dedicated to creating a safe world for our children. We seek to end the violence that permeates our society to an ever increasing degree and to remove the root causes of this violence by advocating for peace, justice, and economic opportunity.
  • Industry Ears
  • Industry Ears is a new generation nonpartisan think tank aimed at addressing and finding solutions to disparities in media that negatively impact individuals and communities.
  • Kaiser Family Foundation
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit, private operating foundation focusing on the major health care issues facing the U.S., with a growing role in global health. Unlike grant-making foundations, Kaiser develops and runs its own research and communications programs, sometimes in partnership with other non-profit research organizations or major media companies. Kaiser serves as a non-partisan source of facts, information, and analysis for policymakers, the media, the health care community, and the public.
  • Kids Can Make a Difference
  • Kids Can Make a Difference, an educational program for middle- and high school students, focuses on the root causes of hunger and poverty, the people most affected, solutions, and how students can help. Their major goal is to stimulate the students to take some definite follow-up actions as they begin to realize that one person can make a difference.
  • The Lion and Lamb Project
  • The Lion & Lamb Project aims to stop the marketing of violence to children by helping parents, industry and government officials recognize that violence is not child’s play, and by galvanizing concerned adults to take action.
  • Media Awareness Network
  • MNet is a Canadian non-profit organization that promotes media and Internet education by producing online programs and resources, working in partnership with Canadian and international organizations, and speaking to audiences across Canada and around the world.
  • Motherhood Project
  • The Motherhood Project seeks to help mothers meet the unprecedented challenges of mothering in the 21st century. They seek to promote a mothers’ renaissance — fresh thinking, discussion, and activism by mothers about motherhood and mothering — and to explore mothers’ potential as catalysts for cultural and social transformation.
  • National Institute for Media and the Family
  • The National Institute on Media and the Family is a nonprofit, national resource center for research, information, and education about the impact of the media on children and families. The Institute seeks to educate and inform the public, and to encourage practices and policies that promote positive change in the production and use of mass media.
  • New Mexico Media Literacy Project
  • The New Mexico Media Literacy Project is one of the largest and most successful media literacy organizations in the United States. Their mission is to cultivate critical thinking and activism in our media culture to build healthy and just communities.
  • New Moon Girl Media
  • New Moon Girl Media is the leader in products that help girls reach their full potential. Maker of girl-created, advertising-free communities where girls learn to recognize and resist gender stereotypes, New Moon Girl Media serves girls ages 8 to 15 and brings their voices to the world.
  • Obligation Inc.
  • Obligation seeks to empower citizens with the resources they need to protect children from the popular culture and to remind businesses and governments of their responsibility to children.
  • Praxis Project
  • The Praxis Project is a national, nonprofit organization that builds partnerships with local groups to influence policymaking to address the underlying, systemic causes of community problems. Committed to closing the health gap facing communities of color, The Praxis Projects forges alliances for building healthy communities.
  • Stay Free!
  • Stay Free! is a nonprofit, Brooklyn-based magazine that explores the politics and perversions of mass media and American consumer culture.
  • Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment (TRUCE)
  • TRUCE is an organization of early childhood professionals that works to promote a positive play environment for children. They share a concern about how children’s entertainment and toys affect behavior and learning.
  • Zero to Three
  • ZERO TO THREE is a national nonprofit organization that informs, trains and supports professionals, policymakers and parents in their efforts to improve the lives of infants and toddlers.

3 Comments on “Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood

  1. We don’t allow our daughter to watch any commercial television and are completely engaged when she is utilizing the internet. We are also planning to home school her to keep her childhood environment within our control. In school so many children are exposed to things they are not emotionally ready for and my husband and I feel strongly we need to take charge in order to give her the foundation she needs to navigate the world. Good luck all, it’s a scary world we live in.

  2. hi sienna– i think that i would have a hard time watching this doc – kinda like all of my worst fears materialized. (yeah – the ‘nightmare on elm st’ – type of scary movie doesn’t scare me anymore!) so glad to be able to stop by HF from time to time and find such rich resources for our family — cheers!

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