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This little piggy went into marketing…what is TV teaching children?

Browsing BBC3 last month I came across “The World’s Craziest Fools” and discovered that Mr T (60 years old this month!) still looks the same as when I was 10 years old. All that milk he told us to drink must have paid off. As a new mum. I’ve become more conscious of children’s TV and the influence it might have and contrasting it with the programmes I saw when I was young. It’ll be a couple of years before our little one is likely to be exposed to it, but I’m interested in what behaviours the current crop of children’s television programmes might encourage?

Among my friends we had the obligatory Star Wars toys, the odd He-Man figure or a couple of Care Bears whose TV shows and movies carried strong messages about right and wrong, (and using love to save the world by straining until a beam of light came out of your tummy!) but merchandise associated with popular children’s programmes seems to have reached huge proportions and I’m not that impressed with the messages behind some of it.

Advertising is creating strong brand awareness among children but at least it is easier than ever to avoid exposing children to adverts on TV. An interesting Guardian article discusses how this has created greater dependency on licensing for commercial channels and even for the BBC, in order to fund children’s programmes. This is probably the most worrying aspect of merchandise Should TV license-payers be effectively charged to have their children watch programmes that are creating brand awareness and demand for the inevitable range of resulting merchandise?

And what behaviours are being encouraged beyond the well-documented “pester power” of tiny consumers? In the 80s we had Mr T (“If a stranger offers you a toy, candy, a puppy…take off” and other gems) and Popeye demonstrating the power of eating spinach. By the 90s we had Turtles eating pizza and hanging out in sewers… It’s easy to look back at one’s childhood with rose-tinted spectacles but if merchandising and children’s programmes are now permanently linked, perhaps more should be done to ensure they are also used to encouraging behaviours that support wellbeing in children?

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