A Refuge from Advertising

Summer Camp Child

We’ve written before about how the average American child spends 53 hours per week consuming electronic media— television, computers, cell phones, video games, ebook readers —interacting with various screens. One consequence of this media consumption is all the advertising it includes. Woven throughout these hours of electronic entertainment is a flood of ads and product branding, to the extent of about 3000 ads per day, according to one study. Just about everywhere our children go, including their schools, they are exposed to carefully crafted advertising messages. Advertisers know that children constitute not only a large market themselves, but also a powerful force capable of influencing their parents’ spending. Even more insidiously, they know exposing children to brands very early in life can have lasting brain effects that influence their buying habits as adults.

Recognizing this trend in America, researchers have begun to study the effects pervasive advertising and branding have on children, their (cognitive, social and personal) development, and their overall physical and psychological health. Unfortunately, it’s not good, with links to tobacco, alcohol and drug use, to obesity, to premature sexual activity, and to fostering negative body image ideals. There is strong evidence that advertising and even subtle branding messages have profoundly negative effects, so much so, several European countries, Greece, Belgium and Sweden for example, have banned advertising that explicitly targets children.

Fortunately for the children that attend summer camp, there is a true break from media consumption and from its accompanying advertising. Spending time at Rockbrook, playing outside, and enjoying real friends and relationships, function as countering forces. Back to the basics of childhood, girls at camp find they are more creative, more imaginative and more adventurous. We all know camp is a refuge; it is in this way as well— a refuge from advertising and branding.  And that’s a great thing.

Media Use Among Children

Children Enjoy Being Outdoors

About a year ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation published the results of an extensive study examining the amount of time children (ages 8-18) spend consuming different forms of media for recreation: TV, movies, Internet sites, video games and mobile devices (ipods, tablets, and smart phones). They conducted the study by surveying children in 2009, following similar efforts in 1999 and 2004. The goal was to quantify average media use and show trends over time.

The trends really aren’t too surprising, but the quantities have to make you pause. Overall, daily media use among children and teens is up dramatically from 5 years ago. This follows from an increase in the availability of recreational technology (in particular mobile devices— no longer must we be at home or plugged into a wall to consume electronic entertainment), but also from a tendency to allow children unrestricted access to television, video games and computers. Interestingly, the study does not count text messaging or using a cellphone for a telephone call. So what are the totals? Here’s a summary of the findings:

  • 7 hours, 38 minutes of media comsumption per day (53 hours per week)
  • 64% say the TV is on during meals
  • cellphone ownership has grown from 39% to 66%
  • Black and Hispanic children consume nearly 4.5 more hours of media per day
  • 75% of 7th-12th graders have a social networking profile

The study makes no conclusions beyond reporting these averages. It does not suggest, for example, a cause and effect connection between high media use and poor grades in school (though it does show that correlation). Essentially, whatever the consequences of electronic media/entertainment use, we have confirmation here that they are increasing.

There is, however, another conclusion we can’t ignore. As children spend more of their free time consuming electronic media, they are certainly spending less time doing other things, perhaps valuable things. Just think of what else our kids could be doing during those 53 hours each week! They could be playing outside (our favorite!), forming new friendships, developing their creative powers, or being physically active. And this is just scratching the surface. There’s no doubting the allure of technology and its power to push aside other beneficial, more human, activity. With this study, we have evidence that for our children, more and more is being pushed aside.

Camp, as we’ve mentioned before, is a place where we intentionally turn off our electronics. We reclaim those 53 hours! And spend our time actually doing things: arts and crafts, sports, horseback riding, outdoor adventure, singing, dressing up, and pretty much playing around all day long. Far beyond what electronic entertainment media provides, spending a few weeks at a summer camp like Rockbrook is a wonderful opportunity for children to exercise so much more of who they are. Camp reminds them that “life is much more fun in the real world.”