What is a Commercial-Free Childhood?

A commercial-free childhood is shaped by children’s needs, not corporations’ bottom lines.

That’s all!

A commercial-free childhood doesn’t mean moving to the woods and living in a yurt off the grid forever. It doesn’t mean never shopping, never watching TV, or getting rid off all the screens in your house. It just means, very simply, that the adults and institutions that children interact with should put kids’ needs first.

Kids need creative, hands-on play. It’s how they learn about the world and their place in it. Commercialized play – playing out storylines from movies or videogames, playing with licensed characters, or playing on ad-supported screens – can limit kids’ imaginations, creativity, and physical development.

Kids need time away from media, even “good” media. The more time kids spend on screens, the less time they spend on developmentally important activities like physical exploration, time spent with adults and peers, and being bored. (Fun fact: boredom is super important for kids – navigating the unpleasantness of boredom helps kids learn to self-soothe, problem solve, and use their imaginations!) Plus, screen overuse can make it hard for kids to sleep, self-regulate, and pay attention.

Kids need caring, secure, face-to-face relationships. These relationships are the cornerstone of healthy development, and they’re why things like bedtime stories are so great – it’s not the story itself (although that’s also very good!), but the experience of being cared for, read to, and secure. Despite what Amazon may say, being read a bedtime story by Alexa is just not the same. (And neither are things like online pre-school, virtual charter schools, or hanging out with friends in a Fortnite game instead of IRL.)

From commercialized to commercial-free

In a commercialized childhood…..

  • Play is driven by branded toys, media, and storylines.
  • Kids interact with peers and adults mostly via commercial technology or screen-based play.
  • Children are seen as a mass market, and valued for what they can spend (or nag their parents to spend).
  • Toys, clothes, and other products are hypergendered and gender-segregated, because more products means more profits.
  • Kids’ media is designed first-and-foremost to build brand loyalty, sell licensed products, and capture children’s attention for advertisers.
  • Children’s values are shaped by marketing messages.

In a commercial-free childhood….

  • Play is creative, hands-on, and child-driven.
  • Kids get lots of face-to-face interaction with peers, caregivers, and other humans.
  • Children are seen as unique individuals, and valued for who they are.
  • Toys, clothes, and other products for kids aren’t gendered or gender-segregated, because putting kids into boxes is limiting.
  • Kids’ media is designed to educate and entertain, while respecting their developmental needs, vulnerabilities, and privacy.
  • Children’s values are shaped by their communities and families.

A New Vision of Childhood

We can’t snap our fingers and make commercial values disappear, but there’s plenty that we can do to stop corporate marketers’ incredible influence in kids’ lives.

For two decades, CCFC and our extensive network of experts, advocates, and 40,000+ parents have been doing exactly that. You can read about some of our greatest hits here (they’re good!). Or, you can join us right now by signing onto one of our campaigns, exploring our educational resources, or taking the pledge to celebrate Screen-Free Week!