Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2003 / 14 Kislev, 5764

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Let our children be children


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Our children are our greatest national treasure. As adults, we are responsible for their health and welfare, and must provide them the best possible foundation for success in life. We are failing.

Parents who are desperate to provide love and care for their children are too often forced to leave their kids at home alone. These children are forced to assume household responsibilities, allowed to neglect their studies, allowed to decide without parental supervision what they watch on TV and see on the Internet.

Our economy is not only changing the nature of childhood, but also shortening it. The media, marketing and advertising industries are driving the demise of childhood and exploiting the vulnerability of our children.

Marketers have come up with a label for our kids between the age of 8 and 14: They're "tweens." And the tweens make up a market of 25 million consumers. The tweens are a tempting market because they control $39 billion in spending power each year and have influence over an additional $76 billion in adult purchases.

Advertisers understand what too many parents don't - that children are shedding their childhoods faster and faster, both physically and emotionally - and marketers are eager to communicate with children, often in terms inappropriate for even adult consumers.

It has been nearly 90 years since the first child-labor legislation was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson. Dr. Felix Adler led the lobbying effort to stop exploitation: "It should be plainly said that whatever happens in the sacrifice of adult workers, the public conscience inexorably demands that the children under twelve years of age shall not be touched; that childhood should be sacred; that industrialism and commercialism shall not be allowed beyond this point to degrade humanity."

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The dictates of our modern economy too often demand employment of both parents. And even when one parent can afford to stay home with children, families make an all too popular decision to pursue careers instead of parenting responsibly.

The Parents Television Council recently conducted a study that found that video game publishers and movie studios continue to market adult-oriented entertainment directly to children, despite promises from the industry to stop doing so. The same study also found a significant increase in the amount of adult-appropriate entertainment advertised during the first hour of prime-time TV, when kids are most often watching. Kids are bombarded daily with Victoria's Secret commercials featuring nearly nude supermodels and with Coors beer commercials starring scantily clad twins.

Retailers are increasingly using sex in their advertising to teens and tweens. This year's Christmas catalog from Abercrombie & Fitch, a clothing company popular with young teens, set a new standard in bad taste. The company's 2003 Christmas Field Guide was quickly pulled from stores.

Michael Craven, vice president for cultural affairs at the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families, says he fears that the message is: "sex is recreational, sex is to be enjoyed without restraint, without inhibition, without any sort of boundaries whatsoever."

Children in this country are being denied the ability to be children, and the media is telling them that this is not only OK, but "the way." Many kids are becoming unhealthily preoccupied with their appearance and sexuality. Studies show that children who make a lot of effort to look like media figures are more likely to worry about their weight and are also likely to become chronic dieters.

Many children's advocates believe that in addition to encouraging an unnatural obsession with body image, overtly sexual marketing tactics are having a profound negative effect on our society.

"There are very real and deleterious consequences (to this) message of sexual hedonism," Craven cautions. "We want parents to be aware that the culture is communicating very powerfully to their children. And it is sending them clearly defined and methodically advanced messages as it relates to sexual behavior."

What is wrong with our modern economy that it denies so many children their parents, and so many parents their children? It is time for we Americans to reclaim our children, and for our children to be allowed to reclaim their childhoods.

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Lou Dobbs is the anchor and managing editor of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Moneyline." Comment by clicking here.

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