Section six - Unsubscribing: bye bye commercialisation

6. Unsubscribing: bye bye commercialisation

There is no one neat answer to ‘ending the commercialisation of childhood’. As our research shows, parents believe that a range of people need to take responsibility for ensuring that advertising seen and heard by children and young people is appropriate for their age and experience. Families enjoy much of what the commercial world has to offer yet do not always know how to contain or manage it. Consumerism is entrenched firmly within many societies and large scale cultural change does not evolve quickly, nor can it be manufactured. Commercial industries do take positive action such as removing products from sale when complaints have been made or adopting corporate social responsibility, but in other instances deny culpability and place responsibility at parents. Finally, governments have set up regulatory frameworks to govern media output and advertising aimed at children. While this is effective for some media, it has less impact on others such as website content; but governments are cautious about enacting further legislation that could be considered unnecessary censorship or interference in the free market.

In order to ensure that childhood is not treated as simply another marketing opportunity, many agree that action needs to be taken by various players.

Firstly, children and their families can reflect on their consumer habits and identify where commercialisation detracts from their wellbeing as individuals and as a family unit. As well as making any necessary changes within the household, families can challenge marketers and manufacturers they feel are targeting children irresponsibly, and raise the issue with their political representatives.

Secondly, civil society, academics and NGOs can raise awareness, support children and families and put pressure on political representatives.

Thirdly, the manufacturing, marketing and retail industries can take an ethical approach to selling to children, whether through adherence to current regulations and guidelines or implementing new codes of practice, especially in relation to sexualised material.

Lastly, national and regional governments of the UK and Ireland can keep the issue on the agenda, promote awareness, act as mediator where necessary and ensure that regulations are sufficiently robust. In particular, governments can take further action to prohibit the “sex sells” approach being aimed at children under 16, and prevent children from being exposed to sexualised media, goods and services.

Mothers’ Union is just one of many organisations seeking to challenge the role of consumerism in childhood and beyond.

Our pledge is to:

  • Challenge children, their parents or guardians and wider family to think about their consumer habits.
  • Empower families to address the influence of commercialisation within the home.
  • Engage with the commercial world and take positive action to challenge instances of inappropriate marketing or selling.[1]
  • Hold the UK Government accountable on the pledges made in the coalition’s Programme for Government to address the commercialisation and sexualisation of children; and raise awareness amongst other political representatives across the UK and Ireland.[2]



[1] Anything that breaks existing regulations or codes of conduct; anything that imposes sexuality on children under 16 or suggests a child’s worth is based on their sex appeal.

[2] Mothers’ Union has 4 million members across 81 countries. Our members in both the UK and Republic of Ireland are part of our Bye Buy Childhood campaign.