26 Feb 2008

Good Childhood Inquiry Reveals Mounting Concern Over Commercialisation of Childhood

26 February 2008

A public opinion poll published by The Children's Society, as part of its ongoing Good Childhood Inquiry, reveals a consensus among adults that increasing commercialisation is damaging children's well-being.

Sixty per cent of respondents believed that young people’s self-esteem is damaged by the media’s negative coverage of their age group. The poll, conducted by GfK NOP, also highlighted adults’ concern about various areas of children’s lifestyles, with 61% saying that the Government should ban the advertising of unhealthy food and seven in ten (69%) agreeing that violent video games make children more aggressive.

Eighty nine per cent of adults felt that children nowadays are more materialistic than in past generations. Evidence submitted to the inquiry from children themselves suggests that they do feel under pressure to keep up with the latest trends.

An overwhelming majority (90%) of adults thought that advertising to children at Christmas puts pressure on parents to spend more than they can afford. This could put parents and families at risk of debt in the early months of the new year and beyond.

The Children’s Society commissioned the GfK NOP poll to complement the launch of a summary of the evidence submitted to the inquiry on its fourth theme - children’s lifestyles. Professionals and members of the public submitted evidence on a variety of issues, ranging from places to play to children’s diets but a major theme emerging from their comments was concern about the commercialisation of childhood.

Dr. Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury, patron of the inquiry said: “Children should be encouraged to value themselves for who they are as people rather than what they own. The selling of lifestyles to children creates a culture of material competitiveness and promotes acquisitive individualism at the expense of the principles of community and cooperation.”

Professor Philip Graham, Emeritus Professor of Child Psychiatry at The Institute of Child Health, London and an inquiry panel member, 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,” said Professor Graham who is leading the inquiry’s lifestyle theme.

“Evidence both from the United States and from the UK suggests that those most influenced by commercial pressures also show higher rates of mental health problems.”1

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children’s Society said: “A crucial question raised by the inquiry is whether childhood should be a space where developing minds are free from concentrated sales techniques. 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.”

Over the next 12 months the inquiry will hold meetings on the remaining themes of health and values before publishing its final report in early 2009.

The public can contribute to The Good Childhood Inquiry by logging on to www.hundredsandthousands.org.uk and sharing their childhood memories.

Media Enquiries; For more information or to arrange interviews please contact: The Children’s Society’s Media Team, Tel: 020 7841 4422 Email: zjm@childsoc.org.uk, mobile: 07810 796508.

Notes to editors:

  • Good Childhood: what you told us about lifestyle, a summary of the lifestyle evidence submitted to The Good Childhood Inquiry can be downloaded from www.goodchildhood.org.uk
  • The Reflections on Childhood – lifestyle poll was conducted by GfK NOP who carried out a total of 1,225 telephone interviews with a sample of UK adults aged 16 or over. The data was weighted to ensure it was representative of the UK population. Fieldwork took place between 21 August and 5 September 2007. A summary of the findings can be downloaded from www.goodchildhood.org.uk
  • The Good Childhood Inquiry – the UK’s first independent national inquiry into childhood – is managed by The Children’s Society. The inquiry’s final report and recommendations will be published in early 2009.
  • The Children's Society is driven by the belief that every child deserves a good childhood. It provides vital help and understanding for those forgotten children who face the greatest danger, discrimination or disadvantage; children who are unable to find the support they need anywhere else. Visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk

1 Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (Scribner 2004).
Watching, Wanting, Wellbeing, NCC, 2007