Saturday, January 09, 2010

An interesting experiment with the lives of our children

The following is a brief report on what's happening in the consumer marketing world, having to do with our kids. There is an explosion of marketing directed toward children. Parents "buy" into it thinking it will prepare their children for increasing world wide competition for high tech jobs. In the meantime, we know that the increasing use of TV in children's homes has had disastrous effects. Childhood obesity, lack of ability to pay attention, lack of social engagement, poor grades are each linked as directly proportional to the amount of time spent watching TV. Will the march of progress in making childhood consumer goods more available remedy their adverse effects? Fat chance. But we will wish, hope and pray that computers and gaming won't be quite as bad for children as TV has been.

NPD: Kids' Consumer Electronics Use High, Growing
By age 7, a surprisingly high number of kids use personal music devices, digital cameras and DVD players on a daily basis, according to NPD Group's new "Kids and Consumer Electronics Report," writes AdAge (via MediaBuyerPlanner). The category has undergone astonishing growth among youth: Twice as many children age 4-14 now own personal music devices and digital cameras than in 2005.

The study also found that just over 40 percent of kids personally own videogame systems; just less than 40 percent own CD players, and 31 percent own a TV. In households with kids age 4-14, 94 percent have a desktop computer, followed by a little less than 90 percent that own DVD players and TVs.

According to NPD analyst and study author Anita Frazier, marketers "have to take into account this new digital reality of kids' lives and consider it in all product design and marketing plans. From the kinds of products that appeal to kids to the way you talk to them on packages and in advertising - it has to be a consideration."
What would happen if we were to spend more time with children engaged in crafts and in the wood shop? The results would be more certain, far less experimental, and of greater importance. Kids don't get fat from woodworking. It can be good exercise. They learn to focus their attention on specific tasks. If their minds wander, the tools and materials call them back. It is a social engagement increasing verbal skills as they learn from directions, ask questions, and formulate requests. Woodworking and other crafts actually lead to better grades, providing students with direct opportunities to connect what they do with what they learn.

It is interesting to note that the world's smartest teens are in Finland where sloyd in schools originated and is compulsory still.


  1. What WOULD happen if kids learned to make their own music and chairs for their own family to sit on?

    They would learn how to fend for themselves, how to be independent, rather than dependent. They would learn how to take care of the people near them.

    Of course, that would leave out the big corporations that produce iPods, the music that is played on them, and the plastic chair the listener sits in.

    These corporations have very purposefully confiscated the hearts and minds of too many of our children with their marketing over the past half-century. "Marketing" is a rather benign-sounding word when what they are really doing is no less than brainwashing.

    One of my customers used to work in marketing on Madison Avenue in NYC. She described how they were building the "media construct reality"--an alternative reality where working to earn money and spending that money on consumer goods are the only things people have to be aware of. People, children and adults alike, are even called "consumers", and everything is arranged by the corporations so the consumer can live their entire life within the media construct reality. In this alternate reality a child does not have to know anything about strings, vibrations, and music; nor about trees, wood or chairs. Only how to get money and spend it on "products" made by the corporations. The corporations' intent is for everyone to be entirely dependent on the corporations for everything they need.

    This is not an experiment. The experimentation was done back in the 1950s and 60s. The plans were made in the 1970s and implementation began in the 1980s. Since then the corporations have just been refining and tightening their grip on our children, and on us.

    In my first posts here I don't want to sound like too much of a pessimist. I am actually an optimist, I think the pendulum is slowing down and possibly beginning to swing back. Perhaps there is a "post-modern" cultural movement. One where a 10-year old learns how to sharpen a pocket knife, and how to whittle a peg for his sister's fiddle, and make a foot stool so his grampa can still tie his own shoes.

    I sure hope so.

    by hammer and hand great works do stand; by mind and heart we share the art

  2. Anonymous5:27 AM

    When my sons were young, we all sat and watched a show on the power of advertising. And the message was reinforced every time they saw an ad on TV, or print. Kids are smart enough to know when someone is trying to con them, if the process is explained to them.

    Nothing wrong with an iPod or video game, as long as they aren't the child's only form of entertainment. I play music, and the iPod lets me listen to songs I want to learn. One of my sons plays music and uses the iPod the same way. The other one doesn't play music, but uses the iPod as entertainment.

    More importantly, both of them know how to work with their hands with wood and metal, work on their cars and computers, know where food and furniture comes from. If parents want their kids to be engaged in the world on many levels, they can help their kids be more than consumerist automata.


  3. Anonymous5:51 AM

    It dawned on me after I hit the "post comment" button that I was talking about what we as individuals can do for our kids, while the focus of the blog post was more on the macro level of educational policy.

    I don't believe that teaching kids to be capable and independent necessarily cuts out the corporations that sell them "stuff." We who work in craft are affected by ads that want to sell us tools and supplies.

    I don't know how we can affect policy, other than by continuing to speak rude truths to power. But I do know, after all sorts of trial and error, how to teach my sons about life.


  4. Mario, I wasn't finding fault with the iPod or other devices in particular, but with the thrust of the industry. We have no idea of their developmental effects on our children. The love affair with all things electronic has its costs. There are things traded away. The child sitting at the laptop is not walking in the woods or playing basketball or making stuff. The man on the hiking trail, listening to the music on his iPod won't hear the birds and small mammals along the way. We put these devices in children's hands before they know what they would be trading in terms of opportunity cost for the experience.

  5. Of course, Mario is right. The iPod is not intrinsically bad or evil. It can be used as a tool to achieve your own work in this world, like learning music. The caution must be against letting the corporateers use it as a tool in your hands to achieve their own purposes, which may not be in your own best interest.

    I think Doug is right about making things for yourself. Here's one of my stories about sons, fathers and making things:

    mind, hand, heart

  6. It's fascinating that you mention Sloyd.

    About 1915 and 1920 my father was learning woodworking from the noted woodcarver, Keats Lorenz, who was teaching woodworking in the junior high school in Lincoln, Nebraska. When I was growing up in the 1950s Keats was still around. I got the chance to know him and visit his shop many times. When he passed away I inherited his carving tools and some of his books. Among the books are two on the educational Sloyd system. I had not paid much attention to them in the intervening decades, but now I've browsed through both of them.

    Although I had not really know about it I can see Keats hand trained my dad in the Sloyd way, and that much of the training and education I got from him was very "Sloyd" in character.

    Doug, thanks for the insight.

    by hammer and hand

  7. John, I have written a number of articles about sloyd that you might find interesting. Email me and I'll send links. Or you can find links and more stuff about sloyd by using the search block at upper left, using the search term sloyd.