Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Children Come First' - A Campaign to Make Good on the Rhetoric

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Children Come First' - A Campaign to Make Good on the Rhetoric

Article excerpt

One of the more memorable bumper stickers of the 1970s, often seen in the suburbs, carried a family-oriented message: "Have you hugged your child today?" Although the question sounded smug, the stickers served as a kind of homespun public-service announcement - one effort, however tiny, to make people think about the needs of children.

If hugs were all it took to improve the well-being of the next generation, that grass-roots effort might have made a difference. But on nearly every index of well-being, American children still rank below their counterparts in other industrialized nations. Politicians spout platitudes ("our most precious resource") and claim to support "family values," but progress remains dishearteningly slow.

Now a group of business leaders and children's experts hopes to change that by launching a massive public-service campaign to inspire people to act on behalf of children. For the next 10 years, in an unprecedented move, the Advertising Council will devote a majority of its public-service ads - television, radio, newspapers - to children's issues.

The project is called "Whose Side Are You On?" and subtitled "A campaign to improve the lives of children." It represents a joint effort by the Advertising Council, the Benton Foundation, and the Coalition for America's Children, a nonpartisan alliance of 350 organizations. A $3 million grant from AT&T will launch the campaign, which is expected to generate $200 million in free media space and air time over the next year.

Some ads will address specific topics, such as how to talk to children about sex and drugs or keep them from dropping out of school. Other messages will be more general, encouraging people to get involved in whatever children's issue interests them.

"Many people feel there's nothing they can personally do," explains Susan Bales, director of children's programs for the Benton Foundation in Washington. "This campaign is trying to open up the possibilities."

Traditionally, public-service campaigns tell people to do one specific thing, such as buckle up a seat belt or put out a forest fire. …

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