Commodification of Kids: The Backlash Has Begun

April 16, 2010 About a year ago, TruthOut featured a poignant article called “Commodifying Kids, The Forgotten Crisis” by academic Henry A. Giroux, and though I read it with lots of head bobbing agreement on the tipping point of toxicity, I have to strongly DISagree with the “forgotten” notion.

This issue is not the LEAST bit forgotten…it’s on fire, baby and it’s gaining huge momentum.

Entire SUMMITS are being hosted about market values, human values, and the lives of children…(first time I’ve missed CCFC’s excellent mashup of academics in 3 years, while I was unplugged in Catalina!)

Plus, our own massive traction over just a few short years at Shaping Youth where we’ve been reporting/researching media and marketing’s influence on kids is proof positive people are starting to “get it” that selling off  childhood to the highest bidder is a price that will ultimately cost us all…

Now add on other like-minded nonpartisan, non-censorship, non-religious based middle-roaders dedicated to reclaiming childhood from cruddy credos served up in our current pop culture and hey, we’ve got ourselves a movement in the making. Like? Adproofing Your Kids and Healthy Media Choices and Common Sense Media and Parents for Ethical Marketing and  a whole slew of “I’m not a prude, but…” teens, parents, and advocacy orgs that prefer media and marketing live up to its fullest POSITIVE potential!

We MUST begin to “redefine girly,” (as Melissa Wardy of PigTailPals often champions on Twitter) and yes, we REALLY need to lose the buxom + thin + plastic = happiness story that’s battling for the hearts and minds of our girls…

But it’s so much more than the switch pitch of counter-marketing by replacing damaging drek with healthier cues…It’s about mass media mindshifting for public health, (girls AND boys) for the long term societal socio-emotional landscape.

Commodification “Forgotten”?

Naaaaaah…We’re just getting this party started!

Needless to say, you’re invited. We’re all about flipping messages in a positive direction and using the power of media for positive change…

Is the harm of commodifying and Packaging Girlhood forgotten? Hardly…

Just this week alone we’ve seen mainstream media focus on the need for critical thinking skills and media literacy about messages to kids being lobbed into the cultural zeitgeist…The NYT mag’s body image piece, “The Fat Trap,” the Daily Mail/UK report about retail giant Primark ditching padded bikinis for 7-year olds in their stores, and blogger moms like PigtailPals sounding off about Candie’s and the thong-ization of 10-year old tweens.

In fact, lately, I’ve served on several PTA/parent education panels starting to connect the dots between all sorts of ‘commodification’ blowback (from thug-wannabeism and branded hypefests to crass, coarse cues where media is defining kids before they can define themselves).

Some of the focus is finally even spotlighting the rising stress and pressures on BOYS (which if anything, seem to ME to be one of the most ‘forgotten’ portions of the media conversation, which we’ve addressed repeatedly in the Packaging Boyhood blog series).

More evidence people are tiring of profit-mongers undermining parents and going ‘digital direct’ to tease out crummy behavioral cues from kids craving attention and the almighty fame factor?

Last month it was the petition and demand for an end to the absurdity of ‘contests’ like American Apparel’s bottom feeding asking kids to post their backsides on the web for rating. (ugh, talk about brash trash encouraging self-exploitation) …

Next month a bunch of us concerned about profit margins going  ‘ka-ching’ while kids’ psyches go ‘ka-boom’ (advocacy orgs like HGHW, Women’s Media Center, True Child etc.) are convening in NYC to see how we can turn this tanker around and share best practices.

And… the week after that, I’m flying to L.A.  to meet up with amazing advocates like Jess Weiner to see how we can leverage Hollywood ties in L.A. and get industry people embedded and onboard some culture shifting.

So you see? The backlash is brewing not brimming…It’s only STARTING to perk…

Wanna help?

For starters, we’ve been hosting monthly FREE screenings of the film documentary Consuming Kids, (RSVP for our next screening Tues April 20, 2010  in Oakland here) to show evidence of  ‘the problem’ in order to raise awareness toward some ‘solutions’…

Here’s how to host your own screening …

We’ve been screening it FREE as a house party with Q&A about consumerism, consumption, commercialism and more, using media literacy activities and art projects in ‘train the trainer’ mode for adults (e.g. Oakland school teachers and care providers: join in the conversation Tuesday and take away hands-on media literacy tips and activities to use in your own work with children)

With teens, we shift into hands-on fun, as it fits nicely into Earth Day themes, swap-n-shop clothing trades for a win-win eco message, or using financial literacy and business acumen as a consumerist teaching moment with other media literacy life skills.

Time and again we continue to find youth WANT to make a difference…and be involved in revamping the messages…(that’s my hint that we’re looking for summer interns, too–leave a comment below?)

Whether it’s discovering values through the virtue of value (e.g. green teens/ consignment stores…

Or…using the screening as a way to instill peer to peer ‘aha’ moments, like this post “Screen a movie, make a difference” (using examples from film showings on school nutrition (Two Angry Moms documentary) or Byron Hurt’s Beyond Beats & Rhymes about hip-hop influence and who’s controlling the purse strings there (big hint, not African Americans or muscians!) we’ve found media itself to be a phenomenal way to end observation and cogitation and move forward into activation…compelling.

Other good films to use re body image:  (America The Beautiful (an R rated movie you WANT your kids to see) Jean Kilbourne’s Slim Hopes, Killing Us Softly, or the all new one just out called Cover Girl Culture) …(see our sidebar for other incredible films under the clapboard, from bullying issues to sports and peer pressure…Media Education Foundation has tons of top picks!)

As for hands-on demos/enrichment…

Tuesday I’ll bring samples of how we work with K-5 kids as ‘junior advertising executives’ using art projects with music, magazines, markers and more to ‘create’ a brand and learn how they’re being ‘targeted’ by marketers and how to deconstruct the messages with media literacy insights.

They learn about label lingo, name generation, how ads appeal to kids with color, sound, endorsements and heroes to shield themselves with knowledge and help their peers do the same.

For both kids AND adult audiences, I like to go online to demo how we show K-5 kids to be powerful ‘CIA agents’ (cyber info advocates) exploring their favorite sites and playing hide and seek with the commercial messages embedded throughout the digital arena. (e.g. design your own cereal box online using ref sites like pbskids “Don’t Buy It” or the FTC “You Are Here” consumer site set up as a shopping mall, the newest FTC media literacy offering: or my favorite show-n-tell evidentiary blitz from recent campaigns at

So if you want to expand the conversation and join us on Tuesday as we screen a 6:30pm showing of Consuming Kids followed by a guest panel of Q&A with yours truly (Amy Jussel) & other parent education leaders, we’re asking all attendees to RSVP on the Brave New Theaters free site for headcount…Click here!

Meanwhile, here’s your local contact/location: (thanks, Donna, you rock!) Consuming Kids will be screened at:

Thornhill Elementary School-Montclair

Tuesday, April 20th 6:30- 8:30p

5880 Thornhill Dr.Oakland, CA. 94611

Local Contact for Questions?

Donna Medi Tate 510-379-6212

Donna’s email: bstill4kidz at yahoo dot com

Consuming Kids Video Trailer (below)

Also on Tuesday April 20, 2010:

Powerhouse girl advocates Rachel Simmons and our own body image expert Dr. Robyn Silverman team up for a FREE teleseminar asking parents to sound off on their most pressing problems raising kids with the media.

See what I mean? This conversation is NOT forgotten…it’s top of mind, it’s important, and it’s worth joining in pronto to curb the concept of kids as a commodity product…

Kids will never get their childhood back so the rush to get out of it and turn them into mini-consuming adults is a mindful wake up call for us all…

Remember, it’s ALL FREE! (A labor of love and a ‘research’ opportunity for me to hear what’s prevalent on parent/youth minds each month to guide my writing for Shaping Youth!)

The films pack a powerful punch for insights into youth culture and media/marketing’s implicit role in the need to create healthier messaging and a brighter worldview for kids.

We MUST use the power of media for positive change…for with power comes profound responsibility.

Here’s more about Consuming Kids…

The Value of Unstructured Play

The Case for Make-Believe Part One

Defending Pretending: The Need for Prominent Play: Part 2

Generation Digital MIT Review &  Six Degress of Susan Linn

Related: Interview with Susan Linn, by Lisa Ray

A few related posts on Shaping Youth:

The Girl Revolution: Empowering Girls Rather Than Consuming Them

Can Somethin’ Be Done About All This Consumption?

Tips for Teens to Survive the Media Morass

Girls Prescription for Self-Worth: Respect Rx

Media Musts to Wrap Up All Things Girl Week Part One

Seven Sensational Blogs About Girls: All Things Girl Week Part Two, Finale!


How to Counter-market Thinspiration

Buffed Boy, Body Image, and Teen Scene ‘Hottie’ Factor

Are We Making Matters Worse By All the Body Image Chatter?

Raising Girls Amidst Meat Marketing: BK Burger Raunch

Interview with Amy Jussel on The Girl Revolution

So Sexy So Soon: Amy Jussel Chats with Author Jean Kilbourne

Using Media to Inspire: Positive Body Image

Athletes at All Ages & Stages: Lia Neal to Dara Torres

Raising Strong, Healthy Girls Today: Childhood Matters

America the Beautiful- Documentary: See It. Support It.

ATB Review + “How Much Do You Pay For Beauty?

ATB Movie: Amy Jussel Interviews Director Darryl Roberts

ATB & the Oprah Factor: Yo-Yo Dieting Messages

Seven Sensational Blogs About Girls

Food for Thought: Media to Digest For Healthier Kids

Counter-Marketing Sessions/S.Y. Tactics

Teaching Kids Label Lingo & Nutrition Literacy

Show & Tell Tactics That Stick in Kids Brains

K-5 Get Kids To Eat Green Using Shrek Against His Drek

Selling Healthy Kids Cuisine Via Product Presentation

Snack Attack: Counter-Marketing Using S.Y.’s  “THREEP”

Counter-marketing Junk Food With Rats & Tacos

How to Counter-market Thinspiration

Eat Like An Ape: The Media Circus at Work



  1. Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

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