Television commercials may have a greater impact on your child than you think – and not for the better.
A typical child watches more than 40,000 TV commercials per year. Little wonder that as early as age 2, toddlers are tugging on parents’ arms at the supermarket to buy breakfast cereals they’ve seen on TV.
Kids have become a major force in the market. Studies show a direct link between household spending and commercials targeted for children. It is more lucrative to market certain products to kids than parents, in fact. Marketers call it the “nag factor” or “pester power.” Children recall the content of ads, which leads to brand preferences. Then the child puts pressure on parents to buy – which parents do about half of the time.
Television is the largest single source of ads intended for kids. But ads also appear in print, movies, on the Internet and even in the school setting. The most highly marketed products for children are foods – and often not healthier ones. Sugary cereals, candy, soda, snack foods and fast foods top the list.
Ads may also expose children to values contrary to those of their parents. From watching commercials, kids may think that owning a toy will make them happy or that you need a certain brand of sneakers to be cool. Ads seen during sports events may glamorize beer or casual sex.
Some experts believe that ads selling products to children are a public health problem. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that exposure to commercials may be a major contributor to child and teen obesity, poor nutrition and cigarette and alcohol use.
Children under age 8 are the most vulnerable to ads. At that age, most kids do not distinguish between a commercial and a TV program. They accept ads as truthful and at face value.
Once children come to understand that commercials are selling something, they can soak up messages in other ways. Marketers can play into teen and tween insecurities about how they look, their sense of belonging or self-worth.
Several recent studies link food ads to the rise in overweight kids. Among the findings:
- One third (34 percent) of food ads targeting children are for candy and snacks.
- Tweens (ages 8 to 12) see the most food ads – 21 per day.
- The average child may see as many as three hours of food commercials in a week.
Likewise, studies have tied teen smoking and drinking to ads that portray these behaviors as cool or sexy. Other advocates for children warn that youngsters should not be viewing ads on drugs for erectile dysfunction.
What can parents do?
Ads have an impact on kids, but parents can still be the greatest influence. Teaching children about how advertising works can also lessen the impact.
First, parents must be on top of what ads their children are exposed to and the strategies used. For instance, advertisers may invite children to Web sites, tie in a toy to the marketing or link a celebrity to a product.
If you are a parent:
- Watch TV with your children and know what they are viewing online. Point out how certain products or behaviors may be glamorized.
- Discuss the risks of smoking and drinking with your kids starting at age 5 or 6.
- Talk to children about the purpose and effects of ads.
- Affirm values that don’t involve buying or owning things.
- Limit your child’s TV time.