It was probably my fifth grade teacher who taught us how certain industries use deception to attract children to buy their products.

For example, why has the tobacco industry never had a problem with candy cigarette companies replicating their cigarette packs or why has the gun industry allows close replicas of assault rifles as copycat-like toys?

McDonald’s discovered long ago that if an industry gives toys to children under the guise of a side benefit of eating fast food it could create lifetime consumers. In other words, fast food manufacturers realized that if you attach something fun and magical to a product you could make the experience a long lasting memory. One study showed that Ronald McDonald is the second most recognizable character in the world, second only to Santa Claus!

Interestingly, the toy gun industry seems to have had a free rein in the replication of guns for our children. Last year, in a second attempt to introduce toy-gun legislation a state senator from Los Angeles sponsored a bill that would have required any pellet gun sold in California to be manufactured with transparent or brightly colored bodies to eliminate any deadly confusion. That bill died in committee.

This brings me to the issue of toy guns and the tragic death of a 13-year-old boy who happened to have a toy AK-47 gun replica at his disposal. We do not need to ask why a 13-year-old would want an AK-47 replica that shoots pellets. I desperately lobbied my parents for the BB gun, but with no success.

Children see adults using guns in violent acts on TV, movies, and video games all the time. The power a child feels with a toy gun that actually shoots objects gives the child a false sense of power, protection, excitement or identity.

The child’s brain develops rapidly, especially up to about age 14, or when the frontal lobe, our highest center of the brain associated with higher order thinking, reaches maturity. However, it is before 14 when the essential molding of character takes place.

Those early years are the time period during which parents need to realize the negative impact of various industries.

For example, from ages 2 to 6, called the magical period, what a child sees on film, TV appears as reality to a child. The magical period is further reinforced when the child’s brain secretes feel good chemicals (serotonin), which then attaches positive emotions to the learning experience.

It is during this age, between 2 and 6 that the child is most vulnerable to the power and manipulation of certain seductive industries that cater to children. Therefore, when children observe a violent act, be it with gun or any other weapon, the experience seems real, particularly when their guy wins. Again, such heroes of whatever magical industry are equated with power and importance. Further, when children pretend to smoke, it is not only the power of the image of smoking, but also the candy (sugar) that can stimulate the lasting memory as pleasurable? Moreover, this magical stage is also highly kinesthetic or physical. That is, the power or positive feelings of play become attached to movement, be it with pretend smoking or play shooting.

Finally, between ages 7 to 11, cognition (thinking) and emotion (feeling) become more sophisticated. This age group sees the world in black and white. Fairness dominates their psyche. If some kid down the street has an AK-47 that shoots real objects, then it would be fair for them to have one as well.

The point of this article is to expose what we all know about certain industries that attempt to mold children, to create lifelong consumers of their product, at an early age of development.

The goal of these industries is pure profit, especially when they can tap into a market that produces a percentage of children who could eventually become consumers. These industries will fight and lobby to the extreme for their products to be accepted, regardless of the impact on the well-being of children or society in general. Therefore, parents cannot rely only on government regulators to protect their children from these industries. They need to think out of the box and like my fifth grade teacher, expose their children to the truth of the seductive motives behind industries whose only goal is merely financial profit.

David Sortino, a Graton resident, is a psychologist and retired teacher. Email him at davidsortino or contact him through his blog: Santa Rosa Press Democrat – Dr. David Sortino






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