My journey to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

By: Jean Rogers

When my son, Scott, was in first grade, he came home completely agitated one day. “Mom!” he pleaded urgently, “Can we get Pokemon cards? Everyone has them!” The following conversation ensued:

Me: “No, Scott, we don’t need Pokemon cards. You know we don’t watch the show. All they do is fight.” 
Scott: “Austin has a Pokemon lunchbox!” 
Me: “Scott, we are not getting Pokemon cards.” 

He screwed up his face and stamped his little 6-year-old foot. End of discussion. 

Just kidding. In the following weeks, Scott came home insistent that he would not be accepted into the first grade social scene unless we bought the cards. He obsessively discussed the problem at dinner, implored his older sister to persuade me on his behalf and had frequent replays of the foot-stomping incident. 

Long before the current Pokemon GO craze, I was angry that first grade had been co-opted by Pokemon. Where had this come from? Why did I have to deal with an invasion of my previously untainted, creative child?

With three young children, this scenario played out time and time again—with Disney princesses, Hello Kitty, Ninja Turtles, Star Wars and more branded characters prescribed by corporate interests. They directed my children’s play. “You be Luke Skywalker, I’ll be Han Solo,” I often heard. 

Ironically, I was working as an advertising copywriter, marketing high tech and local businesses. Becoming a parent gave me a gnawing awareness that promoting materialism was not only meaningless, but harmful to families and children. While continuing as a writer, I designed Kids Media Diet workshops, helping schools create media policies and parents to better understand how technology is shaping child development and family life. 

My 2010 book Kids Under Fire addressed many of the issues I fight for today: how screens can create fear and interfere with creativity, academic achievement, health, wellness, and family intimacy. Writing the book brought me to Diane Levin, her work with children and play, and my graduate research on children and screens at Wheelock College. 

Today I am working to help other parents deal with the same and newer gender-specific, stereotypical characters. The problems associated with children and screens are not going away. In fact, screens are more prevalent and more invasive than ever. CCFC is the perfect match for my experience, determination, and drive to help. 

I am privileged to work with like-minded people—not just here in the small and dynamic staff at CCFC, but with our strong, purposeful Board of Directors and the organizations and institutions looking to us for support and leadership.

My sense is that both individuals and groups feel isolated in their efforts to protect children. Due to the overwhelming social tide of digital culture and corporate greed, they are working under the radar, sometimes unable to voice their true position—young children need real life interactions, sensory experiences and self-directed play.  

My job is to reach out and create a network of organizations willing and already doing the work of reducing children’s screen time. A strong network will allow us to share best practices, co-host trainings, and log shared resources on many screen-related topics affecting children’s health, cognitive, social and emotional development. 

By the way, I held my ground on the Pokemon cards for two years. After a few weeks, Scott came to me one day with some papers in hand. “I drew my own cards,” he said. He had drawn the Pokemon characters—Pikachu, Squirtle, Charmander, and others—with crayons, from the memory of other kids’ cards. Surprising likenesses. I hadn’t known my son could draw so well, and neither did he. He not only learned resourcefulness, but uncovered a talent. In order for this generation of children to uncover their talents and become inspiring, creative leaders, we need to help them see beyond the advertising limits. I look forward to launching full steam into the mission.