Are We Raising a Nation of Whiners?

We hear these nags every day from our children, "Mom, I have to have Mr. Stretchy," "Dad, it's the coolest robot in the world, I must have it," "All the other kids have one..." These nags can be never-ending. Are we doomed to raising a nation of naggers and whiners? Read this excerpt from Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, pgs. 42-44 by Eric Schlosser and tell us what you think in the comments!

Beginning of excerpt:
The bulk of the advertising directed at children today has an immediate goal. "It's not just getting kids to whine," one marketer explained in "Selling to Kids," "it's giving them a specific reason to ask for the product." Years ago sociologist Vance Packard described children as "surrogate salesmen" who had to persuade other people, usually their parents, to buy what they wanted. Marketers now use different terms to explain the intended purpose to their ads – such as "leverage," "the nudge factor," "pester power." The aim of most children's advertising is straightforward: get kids to nag their parents and nag them well.

James U. McNeal, a professor of marketing at Texas A&M University, is considered America's leading authority on marketing to children. In his book Kids As Customers (1992), McNeal provides marketers with a thorough analysis of "children's requesting styles and appeals." He classifies juvenile nagging tactics into seven major categories. They are as follows:

  • The Pleading Nag. A pleading nag is one accompanied by repetitions of words like "please" or "mom, mom, mom."
  • The Persistent Nag. A persistent nag involves constant requests for the coveted product and may include the phrase, "I'm gonna ask just one more time."
  • The Forceful Nag. Forceful nags are extremely pushy and may include subtle threats, like "Well, then, I'll go and ask Dad."
  • The Demonstrative Nag. Demonstrative nags are the most high-risk, often characterized by full-blown tantrums in public places, breath-holding, tears, and a refusal to leave the store.
  • The Sugar-coated Nag. Sugar-coated nags promise affection in return for a purchase and may rely on seemingly heartfelt declarations like, "You're the best mom in the world."
  • The Threatening Nag. Threatening nags are youthful forms of blackmail, vows of eternal hatred and of running away if something isn't bought.
  • The Pity Nag. Pity nags claim the child will be heartbroken, teased, or socially stunted if the parent refuses to buy a certain item.

"All of these appeals and styles may be used in combination," McNeal's research has discovered, "but kids tend to stick to one or two of each that prove most effective…for their own parents."

McNeal never advocates turning children into screaming, breath-holding monsters. He has been studying "Kid Kustomers" for more than 30 years and believes in a more traditional marketing approach.
End of Excerpt

After reading the list above, where do you think your child(ren) fall in, and if you don't have children yet, how do you think you can prevent the above behaviors? Discuss!

Eric Schlosser is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly. He has received a number of journalistic honors, including a National Magazine Award for an Atlantic article he wrote about marijuana and the war on drugs. This excerpt is from his first book.

Copyright © Eric Schlosser. Permission to republish granted to, LLC.