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Are commercials really bad for kids?
But again, this sort of evil-doing existed in my day, too. The one thing I saw that's profoundly different for modern kids—and perhaps the thing we should be most concerned about—is that the majority of the ads during kids' shows are not for toys (or food, or hair beads) at all. They are for media products. New movie releases (Lemony Snicket is advertised endlessly). DVDs (Princess Diaries 2, ditto). Video games. Video game systems. A faux PDA called "Friendchips" that lets little girls share secret digital messages. And, most astonishingly, Mattel's "Juice Box": a personal media player that plays MP3s and short videos (such as cartoons), and is targeted at 9- to 12-year-olds.
In the end, the real Saturday morning revelation for me was that—based on the balance of these ads—kids would much rather be entertained than play with a bunch of toys. We're raising a generation of media addicts. Scopophiliacs. Inert eyeballers of movies, DVDs, and whatever's playing on the Juice Box. Most of this stuff requires little effort, initiative, or imagination.
I bet kids today still get bored, though, and end up just throwing DVDs at each other. Remember, kids, the mustard jar's always there for you.
Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.