As hard as American parents might try, they cannot keep their children from being exposed to thousands of advertising messages each year. As Susan Linn reports in Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood, the messages are everywhere: on television and radio, in the movies, in magazines, on backpacks and bed sheets, in school, even in church.
As part of her research, Linn attends the fifth annual Advertising and Promoting to Kids conference, where she participates in sessions about product licensing, marketing in churches, and the importance of kid-friendly characters like Ronald McDonald and Tony the Tiger. One presenter talks the audience through an outline of child development theory, explaining what children at different stages respond to cognitively and emotionally, and demonstrating how this knowledge can be used to create advertising that accurately targets particular age groups.
Beyond the fact that children are being exploited to sell products, Linn takes on the products themselves, and the values behind them. She discusses the poor nutrition delivered by the fast food industry, the harmful effects of alcohol and smoking, and the culture of violence and sex in the media, and demonstrates how they are glorified in messages directed at children too young to understand or resist.
Linn teaches psychiatry at Harvard University, and has worked with Fred Rogers and Alvin Pouissaint to help shape interactions between children and the media. This, her first book, suffers from too much repetition from chapter to chapter, and a true believer’s need to emphasize every point equally. But the research is sound and persuasive, and the author’s appended list of interest groups and suggested actions makes it easy for readers eager for reform to take that first step.