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Where have all the children gone?

November 24, 2011

A tired mother, just coming from the dentist, is at a local supermarket express check-out counter with her two sons, 10 and five years old. There are two lollipop displays on the floor by the checkout counter. The displays are intentionally placed at the perfect height for children. Predictably, they both grab a handful of lollipops and in unison gleefully say: “Mommy, please say yes!” Mom hesitates before answering and looks distressed.

Who is responsible for her distress: the store managers, candy company shareholders, the CEO, marketing executives? Adults are expected to “just say no” to all the seductive displays and tempting items surrounding the cashier. But what happens when children are exposed to these marketing practices? Answer: they “just say yes.”

It is shameful and wrong for corporate executives to redefine children as only potential consumers, and then to exploit their vulnerabilities by purposely positioning these displays at the checkout counters. Pretending children are no different from adults is immoral. The mother can choose to “just say no” to her children; however, she alone will have to cope with her sons’ disappointment and perhaps anger. Her distress is an unintended consequence caused by companies that are ruthlessly “just trying to make a living.”

Does this justify intentional targeting and tempting of children? Parents need to tell corporate leaders and store managers to stop these practices. If they refuse, then—whenever possible—avoid taking children to these stores. When enough parents take action, direct marketers and store managers will be asking, “Where have all the children gone?”

Anthony N. Biancoviso, Ph.D.
Barryville, NY