Childhood Under Siege, By Joel Bakan

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The Independent Culture

This book should come with a health warning because it will turn even the most laissez-faire parent into a paranoid, overprotective nutcase. Joel Bakan's previous book, The Corporation, convincingly argued that the way large companies behave could be described as psychopathic, and Childhood Under Siege is really an expansion of part of that book, looking at how big businesses target and exploit children in myriad subtle and underhand ways.

Like The Corporation, Childhood Under Siege seems incredibly well researched and notated, and Bakan gives the impression that he's really on top of his subject matter. One caveat for British readers is that he predominantly deals with the situation in his native US, and while things are probably not as bad over here, they might well become so if we don't act to protect our kids.

The main battle zones that Bakan identifies are children's exposure to violent images via gaming; early sexualisation through various media; over medication; environmental health issues; child labour; and the corruption of the education system. The degree to which he convinces the reader that big business targets children – deliberately, and with no regard for their welfare – varies across these areas, according to the amount (or lack) of research in the relevant subject matter. The section on child labour, for example, is less compelling than others simply because there seems to have been virtually no research into the extent of the problem. The sections on children's exposure to violence and sex, however, while powerful, won't contain too many shocks to anyone with kids of their own.

Bakan is most powerful when writing about the sinister relationship between multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession. With numbers and figures to back him up, Bakan drives home the idea that doctors and other healthcare professionals are in bed with pharmaceutical companies who have created an environment in which children are colossally over-medicated, largely for apparent psychiatric conditions. From controlling apparently independent drug tests to treating doctors to cruises, companies have bought the medical profession wholesale, in a deeply worrying and insidious way.

It is that sneakiness of corporations that is the most shocking element to Childhood Under Siege – we are allowing our kids to be abused right under our noses, and we don't even know it.