Articles

The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is a common and evocative means of arguing for the necessity of community involvement in child rearing. Care for children has to extend beyond the immediate family. It also reminds us that children’s experiences beyond the family – in the neighbourhood or community – can have a powerful impact on their growth and development.

These days, the village raising our children has been transformed by the unprecedented convergence of sophisticated, increasingly miniaturized screen technology and unfettered commercialism. As a result, children are bombarded from morning to night by messages designed not to make their lives better, but for the sole purpose of selling something. Health care providers have long known to look beyond the child to the influence and values of the family, neighbourhood and peer group. But now we have to consider the influence and values of the commercial world as well. The results of the convergence of leaps forward in technology and steps backward in corporate regulation is unprecedented in the lives of children and, while we do not know yet what kind of adults this generation of screen-saturated, commercialized children will become, there is mounting evidence that its impact may be harmful. Commercialism is a factor in many of the public health and social problems facing children today. Childhood obesity, discontent about body image , eating disorders, sexualization, youth violence, family stress, underage drinking, and underage tobacco use are all linked to advertising and marketing. So is the erosion of creative play – the foundation of learning, creativity and the capacity to make meaning of life. The underlying message of commercial marketing – ie, the things we buy will make us happy – is a major factor in the acquisition of materialistic values, which has been linked to depression and low self-esteem in children.

Dr. Susan Linn

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