THE MARKETING OF TOYS to children intensified in the 1980s with the total deregulation of children’s television. The number of ads per hour was no longer limited, and the linking of products to program content was no longer prohibited. Entire programs essentially became advertisements for the toys, dolls, stuffed animals, and action figures they featured, along with the movies, lunch boxes, clothing, and breakfast cereals their images were licensed to. Toys became the focus of much childhood play, replacing outdoor roaming and exploration. The active, free-range child of early and mid-century America gradually became a couch potato. Many factors contributed to this transformation: the loss of outdoor play spaces; the rise of parental fears about letting children play on their own, fueled by sensational news stories about child molesters;
an automobile culture in which children are driven everywhere, reducing the amount of walking and bike riding. At the same time, fear of injury and lawsuits sounded a death knell for some of the most engaging playground activities and equipment. Many schools actually eliminated recess entirely, or prohibited children from activities like playing tag. By the turn of the 21st century, children’s unstructured free play was seriously endangered, in part because of a technological revolution as transformative as industrialization had been a century and a half earlier. The lure of computers and video games, added to TV, created a generation of children who typically spent four to six hours per day in front of screens, further isolating them from other children and from the outdoors. Their stressed-out, overworked parents saw few alternatives to the electronic babysitters. Safety concerns, aversion to risk, and fear of litigation created, in Hara Marano’s phrase, “a nation of wimps.” Meanwhile, the demise of family mealtime, the supersizing of American fast food, and the sedentary, screen- dominated lifestyle of large numbers of children have led to an epidemic of obesity that now threatens to shorten life expectancy and bankrupt our children’s future. Television, DVDs, video games, and computers have replaced more active and creative play. Children under six years old spend an average of about two hours a day with screen media, and youth between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day with screen media - more than 45 hours a week.
- KaBOOM! National Campaign for Play
ph: Luca Zordan