"The 'Off' Button Is Always Within Reach"


We appreciate the good intentions, but as with so much involving kids, it's primarily up to parents to monitor unwelcome influences. The "off" button is always within reach.

That's the Chicago Sun-Times' wise rejoinder to the latest set of recommendations regarding children and television from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a widely discussed (indeed, I even appeared on a San Fran radio show with the head of the organization last night) policy statement, the AAP argues that TV advertising is a major factor in the growing number of overweight children (about 15 percent of kids are obese porkers) and that ads for food, booze, and impotence drugs should be restricted on the boob tube. "If we can make the airwaves healthier, and make advertising healthier, then it makes more sense than putting 50 million children on a diet," said Victor Strasburger, the University of New Mexico professor who was the author of the statement. "We'd like to see more birth control ads…and less ads for erectile dysfunction drugs because it makes sex seem like a recreational activity."

The AAP spokesman I debated also argued that advertising has negative effects on kids when it comes to sexual activity and drinking. I don't really buy that correlation. It's not clear that kids are eating more calories these days (indeed, it seems likely the rise in adolescent chubsy-ubsyism among all ages stems more from a decline in physical activity rather than pigging out on Doritos and Double-Plus Good Big Gulps). Teen sex is down from where it was a decade ago and drinking rates are way below 1975 rates and down since recent upticks in the mid-1990s, despite an almost certain increase in ads directed at or consumed by kids.

The AAP worries that parents can't stand up to kids who whine for junk food and, apparently, beer and Viagra. If that's the case, then it's really a lost cause, isn't it? The AAP makes one decent point: "If we taught kids media literacy, you can essentially immunize kids against advertising," Strasburger told the press. That's about right. And more to the point, that's already happening–not in school or in doctors' offices, but in the living rooms of the United States and around the globe, as children grow up in a media-soaked environment.