An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

Recently, the Missouri House of Representatives endorsed legislation that would allow advertising on school buses.
This would allow school districts to lease space on the inside and outside of their buses to private corporations.

The intent of this legislation is to help cover the costs of school transportation; each school district will be required to spend half of the advertising income on transportation costs.

Arizona, Colorado, Tennessee, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Utah already allow advertising on the exterior of school buses. Bills similar to Missouri’s are being considered in California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Rhode Island and Wyoming.

Despite the possible financial benefits, is this really an ethical way for school districts to offset transportation costs?

Advertising is as old as human civilization. Archaeologists have uncovered pieces of ads dating back to the first century CE.

However, advertising targeted toward children did not skyrocket until the prominence of radio and television.

Twice in the 1970s, the Federal Communications Commission attempted to ban advertisements targeting young students. However, the FCC dropped these proposals when Congress threatened to slash its budget.

Today, corporations spend $12 billion annually on ads specifically geared toward children, and the average child is in contact with 40,000 television commercials per year.

In 2004, a task force of the American Psychological Association published a study of the effects of advertisements on kids.

Psychologist Dale Kunkel, senior author of the task force’s study, wrote, “While older children and adults understand the inherent bias of advertising, younger children do not, and therefore tend to interpret commercial claims and appeals as accurate and truthful information.”

The study found that kids under the age of 4 to 5 years old cannot distinguish between entertainment programming and commercials, and children 7 to 8 years old are not able to determine the persuasive nature of advertising.

Furthermore, the task force determined two conclusions regarding advertisements in educational environments.

  1. Because school attendance is mandated, children have very little freedom regarding their exposure to advertisements in school settings.
  2. Perhaps much more alarming, kids tend to put more trust into advertisements in a school setting because they believe those products to be implicitly endorsed by their teachers, principals and administrators.

For Christians, advertisements geared toward impressionable children should matter to us.

In Jesus’ farewell discourse, he prays that his disciples would “not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world” (John 17:14).

In Revelation 17-18, the mighty city of Babylon is depicted as fallen as the various industries mourn their loss of prominence in God’s new kingdom: “For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!” (Revelation 18:17).

Politicians and psychologists should not dominate this conversation.

The people of God ought to be concerned with whether children are being exposed to a materialistic myth that compels them to strive for more and more accumulation of food, toys, electronics and other corporation-pushed items.

I am hopeful that the people of God will recognize this as an important issue for our society.

TheCampaignforaCommercialFreeChildhood has created a user-friendly page to help people stay informed about the status of legislation regarding school bus advertising in their state and provides avenues to contact their legislators.

This bill in Missouri could be sent to the state senate. If it passes there, are we really prepared for what that means? Do we really want children to have almost no safe haven from the constant barrage of advertising?

TylerTankersley is student pastor at Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo, and attends Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan.

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