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Commercialisation of Childhood

Wednesday 13th December 2006

Interview by Bill Turnbull on BBC 1's Breakfast programme on the issue of the growing commercialisation of childhood

A report by the independent group Compass had been published that day, drawing attention to the problem. A transcript of the Archbishop's interview with Bill Turnbull follows:

Bill Turnbull: Intriguing that of all the issues in the world that you could trouble yourself with, and obviously you do with many, that you decided to speak out about this particular one, why?

Archbishop of Canterbury: It's about the future isn't it? It's about the sort of human beings that we're creating in our society because what we encourage children to want, to think is natural, that shapes the sort of persons they'll be. If children grow up in an environment where they think it's acceptable to spend, to encourage others to spend, to be irresponsible about what they have, that's not good news. And it also cripples their own childhood, it limits their own possibilities as children, it fences them in.

BT: And you really think that the impact of advertising, particularly television advertising, is that deep?

ABC: I think it's going deeper and deeper as time goes on. It's becoming more and more part of the wallpaper that we take for granted, and I think when we read in this new report that was published this week from the Compass group about advertising and children, that 70 % of 3 year olds know the McDonalds logo, and only half of that number know their own surname, you do begin to wonder.

BT: What would you do about it?

ABC: Encourage parents to talk to children. One of the biggest problems we have with children, especially with children from pressured or deprived backgrounds, is that they don't get talked to. Some years ago my wife was doing work as a reading assistant in the local school in South Wales. She would come back and say these are children who are not used to having grown ups talking to them, they're parked in front of television, they're put out to grass almost, and they don't know how to engage. Parents need to talk to children, and the best Christmas gift you can give is time and conversation.

BT: Do you think there is any way that one could legislate against this?

ABC: I think there are questions that have to be asked about legislating on advertising aimed at children. This report which has been mentioned, lays out in some detail a lot of very sophisticated tactics and strategies for targeting children, I think we need to ask some hard questions.

BT: Would you control it or would you put an outright ban on TV ads aimed at children?

ABC: I think you need to find what was a rational kind of control for it, outright bans just make things 'exciting' and don't necessarily answer questions. But how many times should a television programme have, what sort of tactics of pressure and inducements ought to be given to children specifically (the free gift culture)? We need to look at that.

BT: And it's interesting that we're talking about this in the same week that the Conservatives have brought out their report on the impact of families splitting up and childhood problems.

ABC: Absolutely, we're looking overall at a rising level of social concern about what we're doing to children in terms of the stable background that we give them, the expectations that we lay on them, and the way in which we don't allow them to have a proper childhood, to expand into being children.

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