Vivek Sinha is the only child in a house of six adults. Between them, Vivek has always had someone to tuck him in to bed and tell him a bedtime story. It used to be a ritual Vivek couldn't do without. But lately, the Sinhas have noticed a subtle change in Vivek. "The other day, he told me he wanted a new schoolbag. Apparently, Winnie the Pooh is no longer good enough for him. He wants Justin Bieber now. I was taken aback. He's nine!" says Vivek's mother, Vidya from New Delhi. "Am I being over-sensitive or is he actually behaving older than his age?" she wonders.
There's no doubt that kids are growing up faster than ever today. But why? How is a five-year-old kid able to differentiate between an Audi and a Ferrari? And how does a three-year-old conclude that to go to school in a Mercedes makes her the most popular kid. With the Internet and TV acting as the information superhighway, the average kid today is exposed to concepts and ideas that we couldn't have imagined 10 years ago. And while that gives us kids that can correctly identify an Audi logo at the age of five, that also gives us kids who will wear only UCB jeans, carry only a Barbie bag and use only a Ben 10 water bottle.
It's a numbers game
What do you call a four-foot-high, highly impressionable person with incredible spending power? It's called an advertiser's dream come true. Children today are influencing buying decisions in their houses more than ever before-from cars to computers to family vacations, they have a say in everything. According to Advertising Educational Foundation:
- The global children's market is pegged at an estimated $500 billion
- Kids' personal spending is around $200 billion (snacks, soft drinks, entertainment)
- Another $300 billion is the money that is spent on them (apparel, products)
- Add to that $500 billion worth of purchases (recreation, technology, vacations, etc) that are indirectly influenced by kids
So the spending power of children globally is in the area of $1 trillion. Staggering figures, aren't they?
Fight for them
No wonder every kids' brand is trying to milk this age category for all that its worth. Which is why there's an uncontrollable spurt of products for kids. Every brand, every two-bit celebrity has a clothing line, toy line, product range, etc. to reel the young buyer in. The problem arises when violence and sex is sold to kids simply because they're sure to sell. In her book, So Sexy So Soon: The Sexualization of Childhood, Diane Levin says, "We've crossed a line. We can no longer avoid it-it's just so in our face." It is. And the question isn't just about money, it's about kids growing up faster than they should. "Shaina wants to walk, talk and dress like Serena from Gossip Girl. A 12-year-old isn't supposed to have 'sexy' in her vocabulary!" says Shaina's exasperated mother, Nishita, from New Delhi.
As the people who are giving kids this incredible spending power, we should have some say in what is being sold to them, right? Diane and her friends started a group called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood as a means to control the kind of products that were being marketed to kids. In 2006, the group successfully pressurised toymaker Hasbro to drop its plans for a line of toys modeled after the singing group Pussycat Dolls.
It makes no sense!
Think about it-we're paying through the nose for things that are harming our kids. How does that make any sense? Surely this isn't what we're working 12-hour-long workdays for! So take the control back from advertisers and producers of these goods. Spread the word, get your friends to join in. Let's try making the difference we all believe in.