Hyper-consumption in infancy and the defence of children and childhood

Source: The Sun

Source: The Sun

As I wrote in my last article, Maria and I spent this weekend at  the 10th National Sri Sathya Sai Congress on Education in Human Values in Ribeirão Preto, Brazil. In this article I would like to discuss the presentation by Pedro Hartung, a São Paulo-based lawyer who is also a member of Instituto Alana, a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1994 with the mission to foster and promote social welfare, education and culture of children.

The motto of the institute is “Honour the child, since the future we want starts with infancy” (Honrar a criança, o futuro que queremos começa na infância) and Pedro gave a powerful and moving talk about the need to protect children from hyper-consumption.

Pedro Hartung

Pedro Hartung

Notijng a study which suggests that 80% of demand for consumption in households comes from children, Pedro began by asking the following questions:

  • What do infants want?
  • What do adolescents want?
  • What does humanity want?

He also asked a question about the obsession children have with technology, and asked the question “Is technology stopping children from having a childhood?”

Noting that children learn outside of the classroom as well as inside the classroom, he showed us the following short video which was created by NAPCAN, the Australian organisation which is fighting child abuse.

Around the world, Pedro noted two different trends relating to hyper consumption: the infantilisation of adults, and the sexualisation of children (two trends I have no desire to illustrate with pictures). Children are now seen as hyper consumers, as sales people for brands, being co-opted in to the marketing of products and services. But hyper-consumption is paradoxical, since it it not making us any happier.

Pedro used the illustration of Suri Cruz to illustrate his point that clothes can also be seen as tickets which give us access to society. Publicity is not selling products, it is actually selling values, and much of the time it seems that the values are “Having is necessary for being”.

Pedro cited other research that suggests that it only takes 30 seconds for an advertisement to influence a child. Around the workld, many countries have legislative frameworks to limit the exposure of children to advertisements, but in Brazil this has not been the case. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that each day children watch on average 5 hours and 22 minutes of television, but spend only 3 hours and 15 minutes at school. There are a number of reasons for this, including the lack of secure locations to play. The audience at the congress was mainly school teachers, and so Pedro asked which teachers taught at schools with an area of green space. Only two teachers raised their hands.

We were then shown extracts from the 2008 Brazilian documentary Criança, A Alma do Negócio which translates as Children: The Soul of Business. A version is available with English subtitles with the title Target Market: Kids which you can watch below. For those of you who speak Portuguese, a ten-minute edited version is also available, and this could potentially be used in workshops and lectures etc.

The good news in Brazil was that following the launch of this documentary, new laws were introduced to protect children. Of course, these are still limited, and food companies such as McDonalds are now running events inside schools with Ronald McDonald which in theory promote good nutrition, but of course are run to promote their fast food.


In Brazil, both Instituto Alama and many other projects are involved in the eradication of this kind of child abuse. Their website curates many of these examples: defesa.alana.org.br. I thought that I would finish this article by citing one other exciting project in Brazil which was announced by my friends at Mandalah this week.

This project brings together Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball star, and creatives from Mandalah, Flag and Mesa&Cadeira. A team of 12 visionary Brazilians will meet in California for one week to create and develop a project inspired by sports and empowered by technology, focused on getting Brazilian youth to stay active, with the overall mission to combat childhood obesity. 

It can be quite a head spin when you realise just how many amazing projects are happening here in Brazil. Pedro’s talk was extremely interesting, and both Maria and I hope to be able to visit the institute in the hear future to learn more about their project and many different activities.

To read more about the congress, please see my last article: The 10th National Sri Sathya Sai Congress on Education in Human Values



4 responses to “Hyper-consumption in infancy and the defence of children and childhood

  1. Hyperconsumption in childhood seems widespread now. I combat it in my three offspring through very limited access to commercial tv stations and the outmoded practice of saying no. Learning to make do with what you have iwhen young is hopefully a habit that will remain into adulthood. However, eldest daughter has just turned 13 and this is becoming rather harder but the task of pointing out the tricks of advertising goes on.

    I imagine that Brazilian children are no stranger to poverty in their own cities. Here it is less obvious but does kids good to point out the have-nots both here and in other countries. With economies seeking out ever new markets it seems an uphill battle to fight against them and the doctrine of eternal growth but good to hear about projects like this, Simon.

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