Tag Archives: advertising

Screen-Free Week: An Interview with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family magazine, API’s Publications Coordinator and an API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska, USA)

for-white-TEE-e1390923415217Television, computers and other technology can offer a lot in terms of education and entertainment. Living in a temperate region with bitter winters and sweltering summers, there are seasons when my outdoors-loving family prefers time inside, and I have found creative ways to turn screen time into interactive family time as needed.

However, I also have to admit that it can be tempting, especially in the seemingly endless winter months, to overdo the screen time. Screen-Free Week—being observed this year from May 5-11—serves as an annual reminder to balance screen time with time away from technology.

Attachment Parenting International (API) promotes a balance of screen time within the family as one of the many ways to prioritize the parent-child relationship. Each year, API’s online magazine, blog, social media sites and other online resources go quiet in support of Screen-Free Week. We’re excited to be able to bring you this interview with Sara Adelmann, MA, with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, home of Screen-Free Week, to further inspire your family to take part in this international event.

RITA: Thank you, Sara, for your time. I understand that this is a very busy time of the year for you as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) gets ready for Screen-Free Week. API embraces Screen-Free Week as an opportunity to educate and support parents in reducing screen time in their homes. Let’s start by learning more about CCFC and Screen-Free Week.

SARA: CCFC is the proud home to Screen-Free Week. We set the dates each year, provide resources and help spread the word. But it’s the thousands of individuals all over the world who organize local events. Anyone can organize Screen-Free Week in a classroom or entire school, with a scout troop, faith community, neighborhood association, at a local library or in any community group. Organizers and volunteers promote the week, reach out to partners, and help children and families discover fun, screen-free activities.

Screen-Free Week celebrations vary from family to family, school to school and town to town. Every year, we hear from organizers and participants around the globe about all of the fun screen-free activities they’ve discovered. Visit www.screenfree.org to find out how you can get involved—for the children in your life, for yourself and for a more positive, healthier future.

RITA: Screen-Free Week is an innovative project and so needed in our tech-heavy culture. What originally inspired CCFC to organize Screen-Free Week?

SARA: Reducing children’s screen time and advocating for screen-free, commercial-free time and space has always been essential to CCFC’s mission. That’s why when the Center for Screen-Time Awareness closed its doors [in 2010] and asked us to become the new official home of what used to be called “TV-Turnoff” [since 1994], we leaped at the chance.

Children are spending way too much time with screens—a staggering 32 hours per week for preschoolers and even more for older kids. And now, with mobile devices, children are immersed in screens, and the things they sell, nearly every waking moment. Regardless of content, excessive screen time changes children’s fundamental connection to the world. It deprives them of hands-on creative play—the foundation of learning, creativity, constructive problem solving and the capacity to wrestle with life to make it meaningful. And the costs are extraordinary: poor school performance, childhood obesity and problems with attention are just a few.

Turning off screens for seven days helps participants realize that life without screens is not impossible and is actually fun. A week-long turnoff allows sufficient time to explore a wide range of screen-free activities and develop more productive and healthy habits. Giving children the chance to play actively, develop relationships and learn to evaluate options will help them become more well-rounded people, better educated citizens and more alert consumers.

RITA: API loves how Screen-Free Week promotes families spending time together beyond technology, but we recognize that in many families, at least some screen time is the norm. How much screen time is too much?

SARA: Research links excessive screen time with many of the health and social problems facing children today, including learning, attention and social problems, childhood obesity and sleep disturbances. In addition, the more time our youngest children spend with screens, the less time they spend interacting with caring adults and in hands-on, creative play—two activities proven to be important for learning. It also exposes kids to lots of harmful advertising and can be habit forming.

It’s vital that parents monitor the amount of time their children spend with screen media. With so many different devices available these days, parents might not realize how much time their children are spending with screens—minutes can easily turn into hours. Setting rules early on about when, where, what and how much is important.

Barbie and Disney Princesses Every Which Way: Balancing Family Values with Individual Choices

By Elaine Barrington

It used to be so much easier…


Sometimes I miss the days when my values and my daughter’s were one and the same. For the first few years of Isabelle’s life I believed I could, and actually did, shield her from Barbie’s plastic smile and Cinderella’s batting eye lashes.

Any signs of the Disney princess posse magically disappeared with a mom’s deft sleight of hand. I was on a mission to deflect and distract, determined to make sure my daughter did not fall prey to these sirens. I had the “Barbie and princess drawer,” a final resting place away from Isabelle’s watchful eye and curious nature where all gifts and goody bags bearing their likeness remained until they could be re-gifted or otherwise disposed of.

Then Isabelle turned three years old, and like Snow White’s poison apple, she tasted the forbidden fruit and has entered a deep slumber from which someday, fingers crossed, she will awake. It started with a birthday trip to the toy store with my mother-in-law. To my surprise, she came home with a Barbie. Naively, it had never occurred to me that something like this could happen. My mother-in-law has her own agenda, we all do. Hers includes a traditional notion of how girls should be raised — playing with Barbie and princesses of course! It has been a slippery slope ever since.

Let me clarify why this is a problem for me. It’s about two issues really:

  • One is the over-commercialization of our society where everything is branded and marketed. I don’t like the idea of corporate America infiltrating my daughter’s beautifully original brain and pruning down her neural pathways based on their bottom line.
  • The other is my desire for my daughter’s female role models to have more role and less model to them. My values are clearly biased toward the infinite possibilities of what Isabelle could become. Her strong, athletic body and bright, creative mind surely have more to offer the world than what Barbie and Disney represent. And when Isabelle looks in the mirror, her reflection does not match most Barbies and Disney princesses.

I could devote many paragraphs to the debate about why I believe Barbie and Disney princesses are harmful to our young girls, but rather than an academic discussion, I am most concerned with what this actually means for me and Isabelle.

Confounding matters is how I’ve raised Isabelle, who is four years old now, to think independently and figure out her tendencies based on her own ideas. She is consistently offered a lot of choices, and I encourage her to think through decisions and not go with the obvious or what others are telling her. Of course, she isn’t raised in a vacuum. Her head is filled with our family’s ideals and values, and our community and society as a whole play their important part as well. Still, Isabelle has become exactly who I wanted her to be. She is a clever and thoughtful child who, in most situations, is able to clearly identify her likes and dislikes and assert her preferences to those around her.

The Barbie and Disney princess struggle is almost a daily occurrence now. When it was time for a new toothbrush, Isabelle said she wanted one with sparkles. So we went to the store and couldn’t find any kid-sized sparkle toothbrushes. Her eye was immediately drawn to the electric Cinderella toothbrush. “That’s the one I want!” she declared confidently. I declined, reminding her she already had an electric toothbrush that she rarely used. “Plus,” I added, “you don’t need to have a princess toothbrush.” So we agreed on a set of brightly colored toothbrushes and moved on.  Score one for Mom!

The next week, a dentist came to Isabelle’s preschool and gave a talk on oral hygiene. Each child got a take-away bag filled with floss, a mask, gloves, and a toothbrush. All the boys got a blue toothbrush with a Cars character. And I’m sure you can guess what all the girls got — a pink toothbrush with Ariel. Score one for Disney!

The following week, Isabelle had her routine dental check-up. Her dentist is a friend and knows to avoid the Disney characters with our family, so after the cleaning she showed Isabelle an array of colorful toothbrushes to choose from. Alas, Isabelle’s princess sixth sense kicked in.  She picked one of those colorful toothbrushes then turned and pointed to a cabinet behind her head and said, “But I want one of those.” How she knew there were Disney princess toothbrushes in there is beyond me. We came home with Belle.

For those of you keeping score in the toothbrush arena, Disney trumped Mom two to one in a matter of weeks. So, what’s the moral of this fable? I suppose one lesson is that I am not a super mom who can and will take on the Disney giant and win, but I already knew that about myself.

I choose to believe the real lesson is the one I re-learn every day: The art of Attachment Parenting is a delicate dance where sharing your values and letting your child be free to be who they are sometimes trample on each other’s toes.

I’m not going to control what the random dentist at school passes out to my child, but I can say no when we’re at the store. And when my daughter sits through a cleaning at the dentist holding her little self together and doing what’s asked of her, I have no intention of quashing her request for a Disney princess toothbrush and the joy that it brings her in that moment, because in that moment, her joy is mine as well.

Using Media Literacy in the Battle for Our Children’s Minds – and Health

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

advertising and our children's healthWho’s teaching your children about food and nutrition? As much as parents hope the answer is them, even attached children are barraged by food messages from sources you might not have even considered: the media and advertising.

“A lot of people say, ‘Media doesn’t influence me,’” said Melinda Hemmelgarn, a dietician and food journalist from Columbia, Missouri, when in fact, advertising is often the only form of “education” they may be receiving about food and nutrition. Even of those people who have heard about their nation’s nutritional programs, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid, few rely on them to make their food choices, she said.

Hemmelgarn is spending her fellowship with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Food and Society Policy Fellows Program educating parents about the dangers of letting the media make children’s nutritional decisions. Media’s influence on our children is so pervasive, she said, that most of us don’t even realize how much our children – or we – are being exposed.

Advertisers are Relentless – and Want Our Children

The amount of advertising we receive on a daily basis is staggering: television, Internet, radio, billboards, newspapers, magazines, cell phones, video games, at sports venues, in supermarkets, food packaging, even in schools, and the list goes on and on. Children and adults are constantly hearing where they should go to eat or what they should buy. With so much marketing coming at us constantly, it’s impossible for media not to have an influence unless we live somewhere with absolutely no contact with the outside world. Cell phones now have the capability to allow businesses to track where users go, so if your teen walked past a pizza parlor, an ad could pop up for that pizza parlor on the screen of the cell phone. It’s both awesome and frightening what technology can do.

Advertisers are also keying in on trends, which are most influential on children and teens. “Now, with regard to children especially, you got to get them when they’re young, because if you can get them when they’re young, you got them for life,” Hemmelgarn said of how advertisers think regarding children.

Study: Food Marketing Aimed at Children Influences Poor Nutritional Choices
A recent report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies shows that food and beverage marketing targeted to children 12 years old and younger leads them to request and consume high-calorie, low-nutrient products. Advertisers aim for this age group because dietary preferences and eating patterns form early in life, the study says. The report calls for manufacturers and restaurants to direct more of their resources to reshape children’s awareness of food by developing healthy foods, drinks, and meals for children. The report also calls for the government to enhance nutritional standards in school meals and offer tax incentives to companies that develop healthy foods, and for schools, parents, and the media to support the government and food industry to pursue these initiatives.

It’s the Parents’ Responsibility

Parents need to teach their children how to be smart about buying their food – to realize that the purpose of food is to provide nutrition to the body, Hemmelgarn said. Children need to learn that there’s more to buying food than convenience, price, or emotional comfort. They need to learn how food choices affect their health, not just their checking accounts or their schedules.

Parents also need to teach their children that just because an advertiser makes a claim, it’s not necessarily accurate, Hemmelgarn said. For example, 78% of people in the United States say they like to buy green brands because they want to be eco-conscious, but not all advertisers who claim to be green or sustainable or organic actually are. One fast-food restaurant claims that its chicken nuggets are green because they don’t have trans fats, but there’s no information on how the chicken was raised or any other nutritional facts about the food. Even the term “organic” can get confusing, as many companies are now diluting this label to include naturally raised, yet not organically certified, foods.

Media Literacy is a Learned Skill

The key to guiding our children’s ability to make smart consumer choices regarding food is to teach them to be media literate – using critical thinking to sort through the messages they are receiving in order to find the truth about the food being advertised and if it aligns with their own values and beliefs.

“Media literacy is not media bashing,” Hemmelgarn said. “It’s a counter-balance. It’s an antidote to the excess media of this age. But, it’s an alternative to censoring.”

Through media literacy, consumers learn that all media is constructed to deliver a specific message to consumers and to persuade them of something — in the case of food purchases: where to go and what to buy. They learn how to think beyond the plate to find “food truth,” answering questions such as: Where did this food come from? Who produced it? How was it raised? What’s in it? How might eating this affect the environment, society, my community, my family, or me?

There are seven key questions for consumers to ask themselves before basing a food purchase on a media message they received:

  1. Who paid for the message?
  2. What is the purpose of the message?
  3. Who is the intended audience?
  4. What techniques are being used to grab and hold my attention?
  5. What is being sold?
  6. What is not included in the message?
  7. What are the unintended consequences of purchasing this food?

Using the case of a fast-food restaurant’s ad promoting parties to schoolteachers for their classrooms during field trips, Hemmelgarn demonstrated how to use these questions:

  1. Who paid for the message? McDonald’s
  2. What is the purpose of the message? To sell food
  3. Who is the intended audience? Teachers
  4. What techniques are being used to grab and hold my attention? Happy, fun character interacting with happy children
  5. What is being sold? A free event for classrooms
  6. What is not included in the message? That the food is unhealthy
  7. What are the unintended consequences of purchasing this food? Children learn unhealthy food choices from the teacher’s decision, and children learn to overlook healthy food options such as homemade meals or healthier restaurants

Here’s another example using a soft drink company’s pop machines in schools:

  1. Who paid for the message? Coca-Cola
  2. What is the purpose of the message? To sell bottles of a soft drink
  3. Who is the intended audience? Children
  4. What techniques are being used to grab and hold my attention? Bright colors, catchy slogans
  5. What is being sold? Easy, inexpensive drink option
  6. What’s not included in the message? That the drink is unhealthy
  7. What are the unintended consequences of purchasing this food? Children learn unhealthy food choices from the school’s decision, and children learn to overlook healthy drink options such as milk or juice

Sorting through media messages can be difficult to learn and to teach to others, but says Hemmelgarn: “If we love our kids and if we’re interested in protecting them from these media messages, then we need to know how to do this.”

Cheap Food is Often Unhealthy Food
Anyone who has ever walked into a grocery store knows this is true: Healthy food is not cheap. Earlier this year, at the groundbreaking of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s home garden, CBS News reported that people going through the economic recession were more likely to opt for inexpensive, unhealthy foods over whole foods, even when they know the long-term consequences of an unhealthy diet. When it came to saving money, people are more likely to trade their $3 organic apple for a $1 fast-food sandwich rather than look for other money-saving options. As attached parents, we must keep in mind that we are raising our children to grow into healthy adults and to value health over greed. And we must model the decisions we want our children to make. Be careful when you begin cutting the family food budget.