Corporations Want to Exploit Your Children

But kids can learn to fight back

When children realize how big businesses are controlling their childhood, their rebellious sense of being exploited connects with their instinct for safety and self-respect.

The commercial pressures descending on our children through relentless direct marketing, radically bypassing parental authority, are at a fever pitch.

It will take more than studies by nutritionists and health specialists, more than congressional hearings, more than repeated findings about harm to physical and mental health to make real changes.

Companies with children’s marketing divisions treat these alarms as so much water off a duck’s back. They continue to pitch junk food, sugary soft drinks, violent video programming and other damaging products that result in obesity, child diabetes, serious mental anguish and other ailments.

More apps are fashioned to elicit more personal privacy-invading data from these children for the purpose of increasing targeted sales and internet-connected screen time.

The California legislature has passed a bill that, effective 2024, explicitly orders companies to “prioritize the privacy, safety, and well-being of children over commercial interests.” Corporate executives know such a vague “kids code” law is largely unenforceable, even if there was the will to do so, especially when there are no criminal penalties. The law has always had difficulty controlling companies that traffic in manipulation, seduction and addiction.

Parents have limited ability to protect kids

What then can be done about the abduction of the time, the minds and the bodies of our children?

Parents cannot control their children, so long as phones, tablets and other devices reach apps and sites that expertly lure them online five to seven hours a day.

What if the children themselves, with their innate intellect, curiosity and imagination, learn how to defend themselves from what psychologist Susan Linn calls “the hostile takeover of childhood”? After many impromptu conversations with youngsters, I believe one way to start is with the children themselves and to work from there to their parents, teachers and other adults.

My new book, You Are Your Own Best Teacher!, speaks directly to tweens: the 9- to 12-year-olds who absorb facts and have a developed sense of right and wrong. And, in the words of Harvard professor Robert Coles, “a yearning that justice be done.”

When they exercise these virtues, without the vested interests of grown-ups, they release a reservoir of moral authority that we as a society badly need. We have seen this work at a personal level with children when they admonish, with haunting pleas, their fathers and mothers to stop smoking, to use seat belts or to stop drinking.

We have also read about tweens working their practical idealism on a larger scale, with, for example, environmental activist Greta Thunberg igniting millions of children in many countries to demand acceleration of changes that thwart climate disruption.

A world where kids can be kids

My book provides diverse examples of children seeing conditions as they are in reality without the distortions of propaganda or adult self-censorship. It goes further, raising some 54 topics to have them see for themselves that there is another wonderful, safer, more confident, resilient life outside of the omnipresent clutches of the “corporate parent.”

About two dozen citizen/parent organizations are devoted to what one of them – Fairplay for Kids – describes as “a world where kids can be kids, free from the false promise of marketers and the manipulations of Big Tech.” They need to band together and advance the most dynamic power against commercial predators, which is the learned self-empowerment of the children themselves.

When children realize how big businesses are controlling their childhood, their rebellious sense of being exploited connects with their instinct for safety and self-respect. They will come to realize that the nurturing they crave comes from real-life conversations and experiences with family and friends.

Nothing is more likely to put forces in motion than tweens discovering how their aroused consciences can shift in the public discourse the burden of proof onto these perpetrating companies. This can propel a resigned adult society into reasserting its historic role, that of protecting children and the world they will inherit from the crassness of Big Tech.

When children stand up to speak out the truth, they have a moral authority second to none.

Claire Nader is a political scientist and author. Read other articles by Claire.