8 Apr 2008

Is childhood being too commercialised?

08 April 2008

In February we released the latest findings from The Good Childhood Inquiry, the UK's first independent national inquiry into childhood. The lifestyle theme covered a variety of issues ranging from diet, technology and consumerism to alcohol, drugs and sex.

The findings of the lifestyle summary of evidence challenged a number of popular misconceptions about young people. It was suggested that a lack of leisure provision was forcing many of them to hang around in groups with nothing to do, sometimes causing trouble. Some children found these groups intimidating while others resented being 'moved on' by adults when they were 'hanging out'.

'We want places to be able to go without adults telling us to move on.' Respondent to national survey

Another key finding of the inquiry was that most children also admitted that the pressure to be fashionable existed and it was a case of either 'giving in' or not. Among those who did assert their individuality, some talked about being teased for 'being different'.

'A lot of the time I feel I have to follow the trends and if I don’t people just laugh at me! I think people should stop following the trends and have their own style!' 10 year-old girl

Professor Philip Graham, Emeritus Professor of Child Psychiatry at The Institute of Child Health, London, and a Good Childhood inquiry panel member who is leading the lifestyle theme, believes that commercial pressures may have worrying psychological effects on children: 'One factor that may be leading to rising mental health problems is the increasing degree to which children and young people are preoccupied with possessions; the latest in fashionable clothes and electronic equipment.'

As recent evidence from both the United States and from the UK suggests, 'those most influenced by commercial pressures also show higher rates of mental health problems.' Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society highlighted that, as adults, 'we have to take responsibility for the current level of marketing to children. To accuse children of being materialistic in such a culture is a cop out. Unless we question our own behaviour as a society we risk creating a generation who are left unfulfilled through chasing unattainable lifestyles.'

Look out for our fifth theme summary, health, which is published on April 22. We will be publishing the final theme, values, in July with the inquiry’s final report and recommendations released in early 2009.

Read the evidence summary in full.