Published On: Tue, Feb 6th, 2018

Should Kids Be Taught Healthy Skepticism?

12 Consumer Groups and Experts Say “Yes!” They Endorse a Free Consumer Life Skills Resource.

Should Kids Be Taught Healthy Skepticism?Day and night kids in America are bombarded with fake news stories, phony websites, stealth marketing campaigns, and online scams.

How can those kids learn to make wise decisions about their money and their welfare in that chaotic, deceptive environment?

Here’s how: by teaching them the life-long habits of healthy skepticism and caution.

That’s the recommendation of the dozen consumer groups and other thought leaders who gathered at the iconic Newseum in Washington, D.C. to support the FoolProof Foundations resources for young people.

Here’s the problem, according to the thought leaders:

The major financial literacy resources used primarily today barely mention the importance of skepticism and caution in life, if they mention it at all.

According to these experts, the reason is unnerving, but understandable: commercial interests have shaped the financial literacy landscape. Big business is the major funder of virtually all financial literacy resources and conferences in the world.

“We’re depending on businesses that rely on impulse buying and consumer debt to teach us how to be smart about impulse buying and consumer debt.” That’s Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen.

“Credit card companies, big banks, and the finance industry would have us rely on them to be our savior from them,” Weissman added. 

And kids are hurt the most by this.

“Starting in pre-school, kids are being bombarded with marketing messages,” reported Josh Golin, Executive Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.  “Middle-school kids are spending six hours a day with media, virtually all of it commercially-driven.”

“Those kids are being asked to form relationships with all types of products. They’re being overwhelmed with messages to make them have unthinking brand loyalty to corporations and to the things that they sell,” said Mr. Golin.

“‘What you have isn’t good enough!’ That’s what virtually everything a child sees is saying,” exclaimed The Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary. “How can a child not spend too much?”

So, how bad is it?

The Pew Charitable Trust’s data shows the decades-long impact of living life in a sophisticated marketing environment without skepticism and caution.

  • 18 to 34-year-olds are the first generations with higher levels of debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their parents or grandparents at 18-34.
  • People over 55 have six times the debt of their parents at the same age.
  • Fifty-five percent of us say we only break even or spend more than we make each month.
  • Seventy percent of all families say they face financial strain.

And those stats will probably become worse for today’s school children, according to several experts at the conference.

“’Compulsive consumption’ is the goal of many marketers, especially when it comes to a child,“ according to author and psychology professor Tim Kasser.

If you own this child from an early age, you can own this child for years to come. That chilling statement was made by Mike Searles, the former President of Kids “R” Us. Professor Kasser provides this insight in his new book, HyperCapitalism.

And now science-fiction-level marketing tools take aim at kids.

 Does your child ever shop or play games online?

“Marketers use software that, with remarkable accuracy, reads emotions from facial expressions. Now children will be even more vulnerable to exploitation,” says Susan Linn, Founder of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Do you let your kids take their smart phones to bed with them?

If you’re a teenager in bed on your smart phone, and you’ve just been dumped by your beau, you’re not in the state to be making financial decisions,” said Professor Lauren Willis, author of Against Financial Literacy Education.

Marketers target that young person, instantly.

“Our kids are all under attack.” Michelle Singletary says. “Kids must understand how to protect themselves.”

Healthy skepticism to the rescue.

The entire group endorsed the FoolProof Foundation’s new middle-school “Consumer Life Skills” curriculum and its widely used high school curriculum.

This is the first endorsement of a financial literacy resource—ever—by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.  “What we need is independent educational materials not sponsored by any company,” said CCFC’s Josh Golin.

“FoolProof’s curriculums provide that independence. The Foundation’s explicit focus teaches kids that marketers have a different agenda than children,” he concluded.

“FoolProof is honest and accurate in the way that many traditional financial literacy resources are not,” added Professor Lauren Willis.

“The Foundation’s curriculums teach critical thinking skills, values and behaviors, not just information about products and services,” added Harvard’s Dr. Linn.

“FoolProof teaches kids to understand what their own interests are, versus what the self-interest of industry is,” echoed Ira Rheingold, Executive Director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “It uses language that is very clear and very pure, and there’s no subtle selling going on.”

FoolProof reacts to endorsements with a surprising question:

“Should you trust what these good people say about us?” FoolProof’s founder Will deHoo asked.

“You shouldn’t automatically accept their opinions! You should do what we ask teachers and students to do when they first start using our resources: Be skeptical of what we say!  And then decide if what we say has value.”

“Largely by teacher recommendations, over 5000 schools are already using just our high school curriculum,” deHoo added. “Last year alone, students made over 41 million page views of that curriculum. We’re confident in our resources.”

Are these school resources anti-marketing or anti-advertising?

“No,” said deHoo in response to a question. “We understand marketing is a driver of the economy. We’re thankful that advertising dollars underwrite some of the best news efforts in the world.

“We also know the marketer’s job is to tell their side of the story. We do that, too. But a young person has a right to know both sides of the story.”

Do FoolProof’s resources work with the resources provided by commercial interests?

Thousands of schools use both our resources and other resources,” deHoo answered.

What should educators do if they’re interested in FoolProof’s resources?

“Try it, you’ll like it!” says deHoo. “Thoroughly review our work, and we believe you’ll say what teachers say to FoolProof all the time: ‘This is what students need to know.’”

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