Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood


With the intensity of the California gold rush, corporations are racing to stake their claim on the consumer group formerly known as children. What was once the purview of a handful of companies has escalated into a gargantuan enterprise estimated at over $15 billion annually. While parents struggle to set limits at home, marketing executives work day and night to undermine their efforts with irresistible messages.

In Consuming Kids, psychologist Susan Linn takes a ...

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With the intensity of the California gold rush, corporations are racing to stake their claim on the consumer group formerly known as children. What was once the purview of a handful of companies has escalated into a gargantuan enterprise estimated at over $15 billion annually. While parents struggle to set limits at home, marketing executives work day and night to undermine their efforts with irresistible messages.

In Consuming Kids, psychologist Susan Linn takes a comprehensive and unsparing look at the demographic advertisers call “the kid market,” taking readers on a compelling and disconcerting journey through modern childhood as envisioned by commercial interests. Children are now the focus of a marketing maelstrom, targets for everything from minivans to M&M counting books. All aspects of children’s lives – their health, education, creativity, and values – are at risk of being compromised by their status in the marketplace.

Interweaving real-life stories of marketing to children, child development theory, the latest research, and what marketing experts themselves say about their work, Linn reveals the magnitude of this problem and shows what can be done about it. With a foreword written by research psychologist and author Penelope Leach, Consuming Kids is a call to action for parents, educators, legislators and anyone who cares about the health and well-being of children.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This book is a powerful warning and wake-up call about the obvious and subtle ways our consumer culture is deliberately sending messages to our children that are shaping their lives.”
—Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund

“A splendid book—a call to arms for parents today. Consuming Kids lays out the ingredients of a fight back, giving control to parents and their children. Our children as consumers are being consumed. We can and must take back out parental roles in this media battle.”
—T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Harvard University

“At last a book that provides the data, the arguments, and the passion that can be mobilized to end marketing to children. Susan Linn is a hero of our times.”
–Howard Gardener, author Changing Minds

“Barbies for three year olds? Advertising junk food in middle schools? If you’re thinking marketing to kids has gotten out of hand, and are wondering what to do, this book is for you. Susan Linn, one of the nation’s leading opponents of the commercial exploitation of children, has written a compelling and compassionate critique of today’s ‘what will they think of next’ advertising environment, and provided a road map for taking back the culture of childhood.”
—Alvin Pouissaint, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Judge Baker Children’s Center

“Linn presents a salient, substantial, and worrying case. She shows how children’s daily lives have been trespassed on evermore by brand names and images. As useful as it is serious, this book is necessary reading for parents in particular.”
—Alissa Quart, author of Branded

Catherine Tumber
Linn makes a compelling case for restricting commercial access to children, moving the debate beyond the influence of sexual and violent programming and concentrating on how the sheer volume of marketing aimed at controlling youthful imagination is what should most concern us. Play, she notes, following psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, comes naturally to children, who, by imaginatively engaging the world within safe boundaries, develop rich inner lives, creativity, critical thinking and autonomy in adulthood. But anything that facilitates free play is precisely what "the loud voice of commerce" cannot endure.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Like Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, Linn is able to write about a subject people care about and avoid the shrillness that can make such books a chore to read. A psychologist and children's advocate, Linn is openly critical of the corporate bottom line and focuses on what will benefit children and families. Her exhaustively researched picture is of a $15 billion industry in near-total denial about the effects it has. Executives traffic in transparently self-serving rhetoric, extolling the educational value of such seemingly bland fare as Teletubbies or claiming to be developing toddlers' incipient need for control. The concept of "prenatal marketing" need not be exhaustively described to send a shiver down the spine of any mother-to-be. Linn points out that successful marketing is often in direct opposition to what's good for society. Sex, violence and sugar-packed snacks obviously hold great appeal for youngsters, and there exists, he says, no countervailing social force to effectively check their influence. Linn demonstrates how marketers research methods to make children more effective naggers-thus undermining parental authority-and TV programming executives spike the chilling metric known as "jolts per minute." Linn works hard not only to put together a truly devastating case against the marketers, but also to couch it in the most reasonable terms possible; indeed, the entire book is really an appeal to common sense: that we as a society take better care of our children. Savvy enough to avoid sounding "like someone's old maiden aunt," Linn presents a socially conscious account that deserves wide exposure. Agent, Andrew Stuart. (May 6) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"Every aspect of children's lives-their physical and mental health, their education, their creativity, and their values-is negatively affected by their involuntary status as consumers in the marketplace," argues child psychologist and advocate Linn (Harvard Univ.) in this forceful expos of the $15 billion industry of marketing to children. Undercover at the KidScreen Advertising and Promoting to Kids conference in New York City, she discovers how companies build brand loyalty and license products whether doing so "is good for kids or not." Links between advertising to children and societal problems like family stress, childhood obesity, violence, sexuality, and drug addiction are carefully delineated. Linn also demonstrates disturbing correlations between childhood obesity and television viewing and shows how marketers influence family spending with "pester power." She addresses promoting pop idols to preteens and the "glorified bullying" of World Wrestling Entertainment. While Linn acknowledges that parents must do their part to stop the "marketing maelstrom," she counters with substantial evidence why they "cannot do it alone." This illuminating read has a place on all library shelves next to Alissa Quart's Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers. [For an interview with the author, see "Sugar Babies," p. 95.-Ed.]-Heather O'Brien, Acadia Univ. Lib., Wolfville, N.S. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565847835
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 5/6/2004
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,366,198
  • Product dimensions: 0.81 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Linn is a psychologist at Judge Baker Children’s Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston. An award-winning ventriloquist internationally recognized for her pioneering work using puppet therapy with children, she was mentored by the late Fred Rogers.
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Table of Contents

Introduction : the marketing maelstrom 1
1 Notes from the underground : thirty-six hours at a marketing conference 11
2 A consumer in the family : the nag factor and other nightmares 31
3 Branded babies : from cradle to consumer 41
4 Endangered species : play and creativity 61
5 Students for sale : who profits from marketing in schools? 75
6 Through thick and thin : the weighty problem of food marketing 95
7 Peace-keeping battle stations and smackdown! : selling kids on violence 105
8 From Barbie and Ken to Britney, the Bratz, and beyond : sex as commodity 125
9 Marketing, media, and the First Amendment: what's best for children? 145
10 Joe Camel is dead, but whassup with those Budweiser frogs? : hooking kids on alcohol and tobacco 157
11 If values are right, what's left? : life lessons from marketing 175
12 Ending the marketing maelstrom : you're not alone 195
App.: resources 221
Notes 233
Suggested reading 271
Index 275
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2004

    The branding of children

    Parents, grandparents, teachers, caretakers, and anyone who cares about children and the future of our nation, must read Susan Linn¿s, Consuming Kids, and take action. At it¿s core, Consuming Kids, examines the negative affects that marketing and advertising have on children. The disturbing fact is that marketing to children is a booming industry that is essentially profiting from programming children. The question Linn presents to the reader is: who is responsible for shaping our children? Is it McDonald¿s? Is it the Worldwide Wrestling Federation? Is it Pepsi? Is it Barbie? Linn argues and I agree with her, that today¿s generation of children are not basing their identity or values around those of their parents or friends, but are rather being shaped by brands and large corporations. I myself am a student of media and marketing, having chosen a major in Communication Arts. In addition to this, I have spent my past six summers as a full-time nanny, and one day hope to be a mother myself. Why is this so important? All of these credentials provided me with the ability to read Linn¿s book from many different perspectives, however, in the end I received the same message no matter through what lens I was looking; marketing to children needs to stop, not only for children¿s benefit, but also for the benefit and well-being of society. Linn brings a new perspective, as a mother and an Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Linn also serves as Associate Director of the Media Center at Judge Baker Children¿s Center in Boston. Her background allows her to speak from a mother¿s perspective, while also utilizing her experience in psychology when examining some of the tactics in campaigning and marketing to children. She successfully finds a balance between the concern of a mother and a deliverer of facts, making her a reliable and credible source. Through multiple personal examples, in addition to statistics and data, Linn reveals the harms of marketing to children. Linn reflects on an era when children spent their time playing outside and creating fantastic imaginary worlds; however, as Linn points out, today a child cannot even read a popular novel, such as Harry Potter and bring his/her own imagination to it. Harry Potter has been constructed for them, no need to imagine what Hogwart¿s School looks like because they can see Harry Potter¿s entire world by watching the movie. Essentially Linn shows the reader that children are becoming programmed by the media and advertising. No longer do they stretch their minds and think for themselves, but rather they have become desensitized and need to be constantly entertained by way of television, video games, and computer games. When I nanny in the summers, the phrase ¿I¿m bored¿ is uttered by every child in the family usually multiple times a day. My suggestions to play outside, color, or play a board game, are met by whines and responses of ¿I don¿t want to¿. Instead they prefer for me to take them to the video store to rent a movie or to simply act as couch potatoes, staring blankly at the television. Linn¿s point is that corporations, commercial media, and advertisers are concerned with one thing and that is making a profit. The notion of instilling the correct values and lessons in children, in addition to reinforcing creativity and individuality, seems to have fallen to the waste side and has been replaced by images of sex and violence. Marketers strive to grab children¿s attention; sex and violence are only two examples of tactics that have proven to be successful. Not only is it problematic for a six year old to be playing with ¿lingerie Barbie¿, but also on a larger scale, where is the responsibility on the part of the marketers? Would they want their child playing with a scantly clothed doll? What lessons does that doll teach a child? These questions of social and ethical responsibility are the heart and core of Linn¿s bo

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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