Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Guest Blogger: Papa Bear on Advertising to Children

[This post is written by Guest Blogger, Papa Bear on the topic of advertising to children.]

What’s the danger of marketing to children anyway? Is it just that they’re innocent, that they are so darn adorable with their fat rolls and silly words that marketing threatens to turn them from enjoyable little creatures into Britney Spears? (I’m not that innocent!) If that were our only concern then marketing would merely catalyze the process that is bound to happen sooner or later. We all lose innocence; we all grow up and buy Coke or Pepsi and then argue about which one’s better (unless you’re from the South).

I think the danger is far more insidious. Marketing doesn’t only inform our children’s consumer choices but informs them that they are fundamentally consumers. You are what you buy. It doesn’t matter what you choose so long as it’s your own choice and your own independent personality is being expressed. Clothes, food, , music – each is a reflection of the ‘real’ you.

Of course, marketers don’t sit back in their high-backed chairs, rubbing their wispy goatee asking how they can most effectively corrupt our children into becoming automatons. They are simply part of the system, people who themselves have been taught to see themselves as consumers and who define themselves by the consumer choices they make. Why should there be any moral objection to perpetuating a system that they are a part of. Isn’t that just the way the world works?

My wife and I disagree. We are not defined by our consumer choices. We are not fundamentally creatures of consumption whose main goal in life is to maximize the expression of our inner self with a myriad of labels and flavors and slogans. We are those creatures stamped with the imago Dei; we are the image of God.

Our identity is not shaped by bringing our deepest passions and interests to bear in the products and services we purchase, because those passions and interests are mainly the products of marketing. We find out who we are by losing who we think we are. For whoever holds onto his life will lose it but whoever loses his life will find it. Our identity is revealed in our giving ourselves away.

That is why marketing to children is especially troublesome. They are formed to be a kind of person who finds their identity in choosing, in amassing, in consumption. But that is not who people made in the image of God are – for God is defined by sovereignty, not choice; self-emptying, not hoarding; creation, not consumption. Children subjected to endless mass marketing are trained to ignore that which is most human about them – and then call what replaces it as their true identity.

Our family is by no means immune to the pressures and forces of the world. Our son will eat at McDonald’s at some point in his life. He’ll play video games and want cool tennis shoes. I doubt he’ll like the ten-year old four-door Camry with a big dent in the door I drive as much as a Mustang. We can’t avoid his involvement with consumer culture. But we can teach him that those things don’t define him. Hopefully, we can help show him, however imperfectly, what it means to be human.


  1. You put this very well. I agree with you that "by example" is the best way to teach. Although, that can be challenging at times, since I enjoy a bit of consumerism on occasion. I feel that by being aware and doing the best I can to lead by example will hopefully have an impact. It is wonderful to find others out there who struggle with the same questions.

  2. I certainly agree with the dangers of marketing and consumerism with children. As a parent I believe an important job is helping children learn the difference between "needs" and "wants". Marketing confuses those two terms and children, nay, everyone can start believing their "needs" include excessive consumption. Helping your children to discern between the 2 is not an easy battle, but a worthy one!