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Marketing Damages Kids' Education

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Published: 12:01AM GMT 10 Dec 2007

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1572074/Analysis-Marketing-damages-kids-education.html



Last month, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, claimed the kids were all right. "Virtually every child in the UK is happy, healthy and well cared for," he said.

This week, his Department for Children, Schools and Families releases a report contradicting this Panglossian view.

He's been forced to attend to independent reports from Unicef, Cambridge University, think-tanks and rafts of childhood experts pointing out serious concerns in this country about children's mental health, and their social and emotional development.

Mr Balls's double-think is understandable. While New Labour didn't mean to damage children's well-being, the policies they've pursued over the last 10 years are partly responsible.

By allowing the market free rein without considering its effects on human relationships and work-life balance, they've helped create economy-friendly families rather than a family-friendly economy.

And as house prices soared, parents have been kept so busy paying the mortgage that they've had little time bring up their children.

The Government tried to help out by providing "wrap-around schools" and oodles of educational initiatives. But you can't institutionalise childhood, and you can't rely on schools to teach life skills.

Human qualities such as emotional resilience and social competence are caught, not taught. Children "catch" them from the security of a loving home, opportunities for unstructured play, and real-life interaction with the real-life loving adults in their lives.

Unfortunately, when real-life loving adults aren't around, there are plenty of other people keen to grab the younger generation's attention.

Marketers' interest in the under-10s is at an all-time high. Pester power is a powerful selling tool, and with plenty of "guilt money" to target among harassed parents, it's been worth pouring billions into TV advertising and internet pop-ups.

They're grooming children to be consumers from an early age - and since consumption doesn't buy happiness, it's not surprising that one in 10 children is now diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

Marketing has a winners and losers culture - "Buy our stuff and you're cool; don't buy it and you're a loser" - and Government policies in schools now mirror this.

Children are entered at four years old into an educational race dominated by tests, and many of them fall at the first fence in the educational race. This makes them easy prey for the consumerist culture of cool on the streets - the recent increase in binge-drinking is one inevitable result.

These complex problems won't be solved by a 10-year "strategy for children" and more institutionalised one-size-fits-all solutions.

We need a complete culture change in our attitudes to child-rearing, including economic policies that put the needs of families before the needs of businesses (a ban on marketing to the under-12s, as they have in Sweden, would be a welcome start).

After all, children are the future of our country, and our economy.

Sue Palmer is the author of Toxic Childhood: how the modern world is damaging our children and what we can do about it. By the numbers

10,000 adverts seen in a year by children.

400 brands recognised by the average 10-year-old

92% of advertising before 9pm which is for products high in sugar, salt and fat, according to Ofcom

55% of children have been bullied or know someone who has been bullied for not having the ''right" label