Protect Our Kids from Scripture Teachers and Junk Food Advertisers

It’s easy taking candy from a baby. That doesn’t make it right.

This is James, a NSW scripture teacher: “The great opportunity we have in teaching scripture in our primary schools … is that we’re allowed to teach it up to an hour a week … I spoke to a … student … and I said: ‘Did you know that God loves you?’ and he said: ‘No I didn’t.’ Then I went through John 3:16 and asked him if he‘d ever heard that before and he said ’No.’ And it shocked me [that] … this boy didn’t even know that his creator loved him and cared about him … and sent him the Lord Jesus. The challenge is before us to capture the hearts and minds of children and youth, to talk about Jesus in the scripture classes …”

This is Janet. She works for YouthWorks. Here’s how she advised her fellow scripture teachers to defend against the “threat” posed by ethics classes being available to primary kids whose parents opt them out of religious education:

“In the younger years we need to sow the seeds strongly of the gospel and scripture. Get the Bible into people’s homes or parts of the Bible … Get scripture into people’s homes, so that by the time [kids] are in year 6 they’ve had a strong grounding in what the gospel is all about and they won’t be so easily falling for the ethics material.”

This is Health Minister Nicola Roxon, who earlier this year rejected the findings of the government’s own preventive health taskforce to regulate the volume and types of advertising directed at young children.\ “While the government is supportive of limiting the exposure of children to advertising that may unduly influence them, the government will not consider regulatory action at this time.”

Adults are confused. Confused not so much as to the special vulnerability of young children to adult attempts to influence them (my reading of the above quotes suggest they understand this very well), but confused as to what this vulnerability demands of the grown-ups who are in a position to influence children, particularly if they hold positions of authority.

If only influence-peddlers would self-regulate. If only they were the sort of people who, however much they stood to gain financially or however worthy they thought their message, would never take advantage of a child’s innocence to clinch a sale.

Don’t hold your breath. YouthWorks’ advice to religious education teachers to hit six-year-olds hard to defend against later parental decisions to opt their kids out of religious education is risible. Australian industry is no better, with self-regulation having led to nothing more than a marked increase in food marketing to kids.\ Parents are often lambasted for not shielding their offspring from such unfair influence but children’s ads come via the net, TV, Facebook, email and mobile phones. Without umbilical attachment, no parent can defend against this, which may be why 91 per cent of consumers in a 2008 survey supported stronger government action.

Children are easily misled. They lack the cognitive skills and abilities to “read” persuasive messages, whether these come at them in the classroom, or via a screen. From ages six to seven, kids think ads offer information, while those aged seven to eight can’t discern the difference between information and the intent of an ad to persuade. By ages 10 to 12, most kids are still unable to identify the sales techniques being used to get them to say, “yes”.

That we know this and don’t stop the influence-peddlers taking candy from our babies should shame us all.

Publication history

Kids need protection from ads - and Bible bashers  The Sun Herald