Exploiting Childhood: How Fast Food, Material Obsession and Porn Culture are Creating New Forms of Child Abuse, edited by Jim Wild, is a collection of essays on childhood and exploitation. The book is divided into three parts; commercial exploitation, sexual exploitation, and fighting back against commercial and sexual exploitation. Central to the book overall is how the changing nature of consumerism, of capitalism and of new ways to communicate and play through technology has changed and impacted children’s lives. It is well-known that children today are spending more time in front of their TV’s, playing computer and videogames, and using social media more than ever before. Children are also exposed to various forms of media and commercials relaying the message that certain toys, brands of clothes and other items are desirable in order for children to feel self-worth and to be accepted by others. Marketing fast food and toys to children through various advertisements is one way of exploiting them using more modern forms of technology. Technology is therefore central to the discussion concerning childhood exploitation overall, but certainly so in the first section.
In section two, the nature of exploitation is extended from commercial exploitation to sexual exploitation and the various forms that sexual exploitation takes, as noted by the diverse topics discussed by the authors and by the editor. In this section the contributors focus much attention on the sexual exploitation of young girls and women, with gender being central to the discussion. It is however, not only girls and young women who are impacted by sexual exploitation, and as noted in section one, sexual exploitation also takes various forms, many of which are being discussed in detail, such as hypersexualization, the sexual objectification of (mostly female) bodies, sexualized popular culture, and using the Internet as a forum and often discrete way to locate and exploit children sexually. Sexual exploitation is therefore strongly tied to technology and to commercial exploitation, depicting the intricate relationship between the two.
The final section; fighting back against commercial and sexual exploitation provides ways in which parents, teachers and communities can work to “fight back” against both the commercial and sexual exploitation of children. The section includes both ways in which adults can help children manage everyday exploitation and ways in which children themselves can learn to express themselves, think critically about the society and culture in which they live and grow up in, and how they can create safe spaces for expression within accepting groups.
Jim Wild and the contributing authors have managed to put together an easy to understand book that describes and challenges the way in which culture, consumerism, capitalism and sexuality exploits children today. The book raises important questions about how childhood is viewed and the harms that children face on a daily basis. Exploiting Childhood is a thoughtful response to much concern about how children are growing up today and the challenges that they face when doing so. It has become rather evident on blogs, in newspapers, on television and on forums discussing children and childhood that parents today are concerned with how to manage the steady stream of commercials and information that their children are viewing, absorbing and coming into contact with. The book is therefore a timely discussion to such worries, and it can help navigate parents through the journey of childhood. The intended audience is foremost parents of young children or teenagers who are interested in the topic of exploitation, who are finding it difficult to negotiate with their children their wants and needs in a consumer culture, or who are worried about the impact that overtly sexualized media can have on their children, but the book can also be used in the classroom in most disciplines, especially those dealing with children and childhood.
© 2014 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master’s degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women’s studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.