An advertisement for a trip to Yellowstone National Park

The Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is an organization of 1,400 parents and supporters who recently petitioned 24 major toy companies to limit their holiday ads aimed at children this season.

Their point was a simple one. The avalanche of holiday advertisements exposes their children to expectations hard to meet, especially by families struggling through painful economic realities. These families realize advertisements are a necessary part of merchandising products, but they asked for the ads to be aimed at parents and not tailored and aggressively promoted to children.
 
You might as well expect a more sympathetic audience to be found with none other than ol’ Scrooge himself. New York consultant Richard Gottlieb reveals, “Toy companies advertise to children because it works, to be brutally honest.” In other words, practicality and profit rule the bottom line, not what makes life easier for parents or healthier for kids.

But it’s way too early to fly the white flag of surrender. Parents are not powerless, and as consumers they have multiple options to exercise their power. It begins with what we model for our children and what information we allow for their understanding of the world.
 
If Christmas joy is confined to possessing the latest and greatest product, the struggle is already over. Greed and its god, Materialism, have already won. If an addict’s dose of television is the chief vehicle for product placement and value, then pleasure and its god, Entertainment, are already joining in the victory dance.
 
In Isaiah, we learn how a little child will lead us. Isn’t one part of this truth the way we see more clearly in our children what we find harder to admit in ourselves? We know that keeping Christmas has fallen into an abyss of abundance, especially in contrast to the glaring needs of the world around us. Yet we feel guilty dashing their young hopes with our “no” and our lack of wisdom to offer an alternative.

But what if the campaign had been for a “television-free” childhood, at least for December? What if the attention shifted away from the advertisers and back to parents themselves? What if a group of families said, “Here’s what we are going to do, and we invite you to join us”?

Turn off the television during December, or at least limit viewing to things the family will watch together. Skip the commercials or turn down the volume for sharing cookies and hot chocolate. Use the extra time to play board games, visit a children’s hospital or shop for needy kids in the community. Sing carols at a nursing home. Go to church, volunteer to light the Advent wreath and be part of a community that worships the One bringing peace to the earth.

If enough families did those things, the advertisers would pay attention, and so too would the world.
 
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky

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