As a mom, I was creeped out when Cornell Food and Brand Lab’s recent study showed that the characters on cereal boxes are designed to connect with children by looking them right in the eye. Some ads are as blatant as a carnival barker yelling to encourage customers; others are so subtle we may not even notice them. But in today’s wired world, advertising is everywhere. How can parents protect their children from something so pervasive?
Limit screen time
According to ParentFurther, today’s kids spend 53 hours a week in front of some type of screen. That’s more time then they spend on any other activity – including sleeping!
Roughly 30 percent of the time we spend watching TV is consumed by commercials, according to Psychology Today. With animated advertisements, games featuring spokes-characters, and commercials popping up before videos, the internet is also awash with advertising.
The less time children spend in front of a screen, the fewer commercials they’ll see. Encourage kids to search out other activities like reading, playing games, telling stories, making something artistic or crafty, playing games, or exploring outside. Redirecting your child won’t keep their lives advertising-free, but it will cut down on their exposure and give them other things to think about.
Teach kids to protect themselves
It’s impossible to avoid all advertising — and there’s a good reason why you shouldn’t. Watching ads with your children is the best way to teach them to protect themselves from advertising’s persuasive pull. PBS Kids encourages parents to “play detective” with their kids and identify the most common marketing strategies. Have your children join you in spotting celebrities in commercials. Discuss the fact that the celebrity is getting paid to appear in the ad. Or, for a more challenging game of hide and seek, try to spot examples of product placement, or occasions when advertisers have paid to have their product noticeably used in a show. You can also talk with your children about what emotions a commercial is trying to inspire or who its target audience might be.
By teaching your kids to analyze commercials, you’re helping them learn to think about what they see and why they see it, hopefully making them less susceptible to advertising’s siren song. If you need help getting started, you can print out a “Question the Commercial Guide” at PBS Kids.
With today’s consumer-driven economy, advertisers seize every opportunity to catch the eyes of potential customers. Even children aren’t safe. But parents can take steps to protect their children from advertising’s constant bombardment by limiting screen time and teaching children to analyze what’s going on behind the scenes in the commercials they see.