With children reluctantly returning to school this month after the lengthy summer break, the classrooms and playgrounds will undoubtedly be filled with excited chatter, as tales of holiday activities and escapades are swapped.
Whilst many will have enjoyed a seaside holiday, either at home or abroad, and others simply had fun playing outdoors in the sunshine, there will be some youngsters who enjoyed the experience of a lifetime.
No doubt Rose Powell and Flame Brewer will never forget this summer, when the two 9-year old cousins became the worlds youngest formation wing walkers as they took to the skies over Gloucestershire, England on two 1940s biplanes in aid of muscular dystrophe.
Equally committed (and possibly just as daring?!) was the young Everton fan pictured cheering on his team, apparently oblivious to all around him during a recent Premier League match.
Noting that the children are all dressed from head to toe in sponsors’ clothing, with their attention seemingly elsewhere, it made us wonder exactly what effects branding and targeted advertising has on children of different ages.
Further investigation suggests that the topic is certainly a divisive one and as the Executive Summary of David Buckingham’s fascinating report below shows, research findings are somewhat inconclusive with valid arguments on both sides.
What is clear from the photos is that the subjects, in the absence of any digital media yet still surrounded by commercial messages, were clearly having an unforgettable time!
‘The Impact of the Commercial World on Children’s Wellbeing’ by David Buckingham, is a Report of an Independent Assessment on the subject prepared for the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The Executive Summary of the 190-page report reads as follows:
- Children today are exposed to a growing number and range of commercial messages. These extend far beyond traditional media advertising, and involve activities such as online marketing, sponsorship and peer-to-peer marketing. Commercial forces also increasingly impact on children’s experiences in areas such as broadcasting, education and play.
- The commercial world offers children important opportunities in terms of entertainment, learning, creativity and cultural experience. But there are also significant concerns about what many see as harmful impacts on children’s wellbeing, especially on their mental and physical health.
- The debate on these issues is polarised and often sensationalised, making it hard to arrive at a balanced view. Commercialism needs to be understood in relation to broader changes in the economy and in family life, without succumbing to nostalgia for a mythical ‘golden age’. Simple cause-and-effect explanations do not do justice to the complexity of issues.
- The evidence, both of risk and harm caused by the commercial world and of its benefits, is rarely conclusive. Overall, it suggests that children are neither the helpless victims imagined by some campaigners nor the autonomous ‘savvy’ consumers celebrated by some marketing people.
- There is some research that establishes associations between aspects of the commercial world and negative wellbeing among children. However, in most key areas relating to physical and mental health there is very limited evidence of any casual relationship. Few studies have clearly established the importance of commercial factors as compared with other influences, such as parents and peers.
- Equally, the commercial world may have a whole range of positive effects on children; but reliable evidence on specific impacts is very limited, and there is little or no independent evaluation of the claims of businesses in this respect.
- New media and marketing techniques raise some ethical concerns about potential deception and threats to privacy: the public is not currently well informed about this area, and existing regulation is insufficient in some respects.
- Growing commercial pressures are undermining the production of UK-originated children’s television programmes.
- Schools and public spaces are increasingly being used as marketing venues and being affected by privatisation and commercialisation. The implications of these developments for children’s wellbeing remain to be identified.
- In these and other areas, commercialisation may accentuate inequalities and place further pressure on those who are already disadvantaged.
- The commercial world is not going to disappear. Children and parents need to understand it and deal with it. Consumer and media literacy, both at home and in schools, offers one important strategy here, although it needs further evaluation.
© Crown copyright 2009
A full copy of the report can be viewed online by visiting:
Biplane photo: Getty Images
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