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Friday, February 1, 2008

Ads shouldn't ride the school bus with our kids
By David Lauderdale
The "No Advertisement Left Behind" act is now being brought to you by the state of South Carolina's schools.
The state Department of Education says advertisements can be placed inside school buses. Local school districts -- if they so choose -- can cash in on this new and improved bonanza. Our school district stands to make as much as $250,000 per year.

The good news is that this assumes our children can actually read the ads:
"See Dick and Jane. See Dick and Jane eat the quadruple fat burger with cheese. See Dick and Jane become super-sized inaction figures. And remember, kids. Always gorge yourself responsibly."

Have all the adults left the room? Are ads in school buses a good idea?
My initial reaction was, "What difference could it possibly make? Children already see ads everywhere but the inside of their eyelids."

I thought back to my own childhood. In downtown Atlanta we didn't have yellow school buses. We rode the city bus for the low student price of a dime. We were subjected to all the ads and weirdos and everything else you find on a city bus, and you can see how well we turned ... never mind.

So what's the harm?
Even the state school transportation director, who is told the ads could produce $2.8 million for schools statewide in the first year and as much as $6 million in the second year, told a reporter:

"We couldn't find a reason why not to set the process up."
He apparently didn't look very hard.
Potential problems with advertising to children have been a concern for decades for psychologists, pediatricians, nutritionists, the advertising industry, food companies, the Better Business Bureau, private foundations and the federal government.

Experts worry about their impact on everything from inferiority complexes to lung cancer, from materialistic values to sugary foods, from sex to violence.

And then there's the odd concept that a school bus might be considered a safe haven.
Advertisers spent $1.4 billion per month marketing to children in 2005, USA Today reports. American teenagers spend $155 billion per year, while children younger than 12 spend another $25 billion per year -- and both groups influence some $200 billion of their parents' spending each year, another report says.

No wonder advertisers want to be in the buses. But pediatricians fret that the "3 Rs" in our schools have now become the "4 Rs," with the fourth being "retail." They say a lot of ads targeting children promote unhealthy foods and lifestyles.

Maybe that's why the American Academy of Pediatrics included this recommendation in a 2006 position paper:
"Pediatricians should work with parents, schools, community groups, and others to ban or severely curtail school-based advertising in all forms."

Even with no ads in the bus or the school, kids will learn how to kick, gouge, cheat and curse the old fashioned way -- from each other.

But wouldn't you hate to get your little product to graduation day and have the schools say, "Sorry. Brain sold separately."

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