Beware Of Commercial-Free Childhood ( 2015 May)

by Barry A. Liebling

Earlier this year Google introduced a new app to parents – YouTube Kids. As its name implies it delivers content aimed at young children and is designed to help parents filter out videos that are intended for an older, more sophisticated viewership. You might think that there would be little that is controversial about the app. Parents who are pleased with it will use it, and parents who are not interested – or find fault with its execution – will not. But the new service has attracted the baleful attention of several leftist political groups that are demanding that it be radically changed or eliminated.

What has stirred the ire of concerned “progressive” activists? The unforgivable transgression of YouTube Kids is that it routinely exposes its young audience to commercials. A principal critic of the new app is, not unexpectedly, the Campaign for A Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). This Boston-based group is dedicated to stamping out all commercials that children might encounter. Note that they use the term “commercial” simultaneously in both senses of the word – a short message that touts a product and a private activity organized to make a profit. Note also that while the group concentrates its attention on children they are not keen on commercials that are aimed at adults either.

CCFC has two audiences – fellow leftist activists who are repelled by private profit-seeking activity and concerned parents who have a genuine desire to protect their children from harm. Nothing can be said to dissuade those who are permanently hostile to the private sector and yearn for strong-arm state-enforced directives from attacking free-market related activities. However, parents who want to help their children – and are not committed to the leftist agenda – should consider what CCFC is advocating, reflect on its implications, and steer clear.

The main theme of the Campaign for A Commercial-Free Childhood is that profit-making corporations are sending messages to children that (according to CCFC) are injurious – encouraging children to want material possessions, to appreciate particular brands, and (most disturbing) to see an alternative to the “progressive” agenda of having the government supervise all important aspects of life.

On the CCFC website there are several talking points that are intended to alarm parents of the perils their children face in the commercial world. And each of these points fails to recognize that the so-called dangers of the commercial world are dwarfed by the genuine dangers of permitting government schools to have a monopoly on sending messages to children.

Here are two telling examples.

First, CCFC says, “As a society we hold parents as responsible for the health, safety and wellbeing of their children. Yet we have not held corporations accountable for spending billions of dollars on advertising that undermines their efforts.” Here CCFC is suggesting that spending lots of money to communicate with children is insidious.

But concerned parents should consider who else is spending a lot of money to influence children. While corporations have invested billions on advertising (mostly outside the classroom but partly at schools), the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to tell young children in public schools how to conduct their lives. And the government-financed advice is generally inspired by the latest leftist educational fads – embracing multi-culturalism (all cultures are equal except for Western culture which is evil), viewing all actions through the Marxian lens of class, race, and gender (individuals do not count, only group membership matters, and only groups designated as “oppressed” deserve sympathy), embracing radical environmentalism (“protecting and preserving” the non-human elements of nature is essential while taking voluntary, private actions in the interests of humans is at best a low priority).

Second, CCFC proclaims that they oppose letting commercial advertisers into public schools. CCFC boasts that they “target advertisers that exploit a captive audience of students, and work for policies to preserve schools and school buses as commercial-free zones.” So CCFC is concerned that children at school and in school buses are “captive” and might have a hard time resisting the persuasive pressure of commercials.

Parents should note that CCFC does not mention that children in public schools are often captive by default to the propaganda designed and financed by a leftist-inspired educational establishment. If you sincerely think that making children a captive audience is bad, you have to be disturbed about what occurs in the public school setting. For the CCFC communicating with children is out-of-bounds if the messenger seeks to make a profit, but is perfectly acceptable when the harangue is coming from a government educational establishment intent on turning children into lifelong supporters of the left-wing agenda.

Bear in mind that to reject the CCFC line you do not have to approve of all commercials. Not all advertising aimed at children is benign. Some ads may be misleading or may urge children to request a product that is not in their best interests. And the solution to this problem is not to forbid all advertising directed at children. Instead parents should expose their kids to many commercials and teach them to distinguish between the good ones and the bad ones. The sooner children have experience assessing the validity of commercials the more competent they will be in discerning what is true as they get older. An added benefit of early practice at appraising commercials is that children will be in a better position to evaluate what is taught to them in schools. They may notice that not everything their teacher preaches is necessarily true.

With proper parental guidance Youtube Kids that features commercials can be a valuable learning tool. Children should develop skills to evaluate all types of messages.

*** See other entries at in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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