Monday, August 01, 2005

The new "root of all evil"

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a conference sponsored by the national Episcopal Church called "Will Our Children Be Stewards ?" . The title it's self poses a question worthy of much thought and discussion. If only the answer could be hashed out at a 4 day conference. While I applaud the church for asking the question and inviting me to join the discussion, I am a little worried that perhaps the church is spending a great deal of effort fighting the wrong fire. The main theme of the conference seemed to be that media advertising , especially that which comes from the television, is the root of all our children's issues and their parents problems. We were given stacks of statistics on how much the advertising industry spends targeting our children and how many American children are now overweight, diabetic and clinically depressed because of it . According to several of the speakers the scenario goes as follows ... Little Mickey and Sarah are your average American children . Each week these children are taking in a full 38 hours of commercial media, that doesn't include internet, billboards and the "omnipresent brand logos" that bombard them every day. At least four times per day Mickey sees an ad for McDonald's and as a result Little Mickey is now seriously overweight because he insists on eating at McDonald's at least three times per week. Because Little Mickey is overweight he suffers from low self esteem and has become a behavior problem in school and is put on anti-depressant medications to help combat this. In the mean time across the hall Sarah is watching MTV with its ever present ads for the GAP and Old Navy and their message that if you don't wear our brands you suck as a human being. Sarah then goes to school and terrorizes the children who can't afford to live up to the MTV cultural norm. In the eyes of the speakers there is an obvious cause and effect going on in these situations . I agree, however I do not feel that the answer is to get congress involved by passing a "Parent's Bill of Rights" that would ban television advertising aimed at children under twelve years old. It would forbid schools and such organizations such as PTA from having sponsors such as Coca-Cola because they in turn give out freebies with the Coke logo on them. Here is where the conference leaders and I part ways , I have no doubt that the average American kid (mine included) sees way to much commercial advertising , however I don't think it is the responsibility of congress or the church to fix it. The answer is not to ban all advertising and commercial sponsors for such functions as PTA , most schools and related childrens programs are so under funded that sponsors like Coca-Cola and McDonald's are desperately needed. After much though and deliberation I have come up with a plan to combat such advertising nightmares and "marketing-related diseases" in children that I would like the church to consider endorsing , if not in place of the "Parents Bill of Rights" at least along side it and given equal billing. My solution is called "The Act of Personal Responsibility" and is goes as follows....
If you don't like your children drinking excessive amounts of the Coca-Cola products that are being advertised on the pencils that the PTA is selling for a fundraiser , then don't buy them excessive amounts of Coca-Cola products. If Little Mickey is becoming overweight because he watches four ads for McDonald's everyday ... pull the plug on the TV , make him go outside and play and stop feeding him at McDonald's three times per week. Little Mickey will perhaps savor his treat of a McDonald's cheese burger having bought it with his own money that he has earned raking the lawn . Chances are he may even loose a little weight in the process. If Sarah can't stop tormenting her classmates because they are not as "privileged" as she is ... remove her privileges.... if she earns her own money, then she can do her own shopping at Old Navy if not, then she can deal with whatever you buy for her. Institute an "attitude tax" (my daughter HATES this with a passion) every time she gives attitude to you or someone undeserving of such attitude tax her for it. Unplugging the cable or internet makes for a great tax on a smart mouth. And nothing seems to bring out the seriousness of your statement like making them do all of those chores that are normally rewarded with a weekly allowance for free. And just on a personal note , that jar of quarters and dollar bills (depending on the infraction) adds up fast and makes for a great trip to the bookstore for Mom !! My basic point is that the media can advertise until it is blue in the virtual face , but if parents will enforce some basic rules it will fall largely on deaf ears. In my mind TV and media are not the roots of all evil , but lack of parental involvement comes awfully close . On a positive note a small part of the conference was aimed at helping parents make generous, well grounded and caring adults out of their children. I'll get behind that any day.


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