Advertising and Children: What Every Parent Should Know

By Wallace, Sheri | Children's Voice, September/October 2003 | Go to article overview

Advertising and Children: What Every Parent Should Know


Wallace, Sheri, Children's Voice


Research on the effects of the media on children has been ongoing for decades. There is almost no debate about whether television, video games, and computer time influences our children; the debate is now focused on what those effects might be.

Concerned parents, teachers, and child advocates aren't the only ones paying rapt attention to these studies-advertisers have been listening as well. With the average American child viewing as many as 40,000 television commercials every year, advertisers have a huge stake in making sure their messages get through to the youngest generation of consumers.*

Did you know...

* Children as young as 3 can recognize a specific brand logo. Brand loyalty influence starts as early as age 2.

* In 2001, teenagers spent $172 billion-an average of $104 per teen per week.

* In 2002, children ages 4-12 spent an estimated $40 billion.

* Children ages 12 and under influenced, directly and indirectly, the household spending of more than $600 billion in 2000.

It takes no leap of logic to understand why, in 1997, advertisers spent $12 billion on marketing aimed at children. Today, kids are bombarded with commercial messages from all fronts. Television, magazines, video games, computer pop up ads, and billboards are just a few of the forums for kiddy commercials.

In an age where parents are spending less time with their children, new technology is increasingly ad driven. Databases of information on young consumers are compiled from chat rooms, toy registries, and a myriad of other sources. Even schools are not sacred ground-logos abound on everything from I clothing to what is sold in vending machines. And Channel One television offers to bring current events to the classroom-as long as commercials are viewed in tandem.

Ad Driven

James Steyer, author of The Other Parent: The Inside Story of the Media's Effect on Our Children, says children of all ages are subjected to an almost constant attack of commercial messages from all fronts. "From the moment they begin to absorb the media, kids are taking in commercial messages," m he explains.

Steyer-Chair of Families Interested in Responsible Media, and founder of the children's television production company JP Kids and children's advocacy group Children Now-says when caregivers aren't involved with their children's media consumption and don't set healthy limits, their children are at risk for falling victim to harmful side effects.

"It's especially important to understand that virtually all of the media is commercially driven," Steyer says. And the advertising can be particularly overt. "Television channels such as MTV are virtually 24-hour advertisements, and product placements are increasingly popular in children's media."

Developmental psychologist Douglas A. Gentile, Director of Research for the National Institute on Media and the Family, agrees: "Most kids don't usually see or read anything that is not advertising driven. This creates two areas of concern for caregivers and other child advocates-the content and the quantity of the media." Gentile says organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics urge caregivers to limit media exposure to one to two hours per day. "This includes all screen time," he explains. "Screen time is the total time a child sits in front of any screen-television, computer, or video game."

A total media blackout might seem to be best for all children, but Gentile says that's not the case. "Even if it were possible to raise children without exposure to television or video games, research has shown that up to about 10 hours per week of media exposure can actually be beneficial to most children." After that, however, studies prove that school performance starts to drop.

Becoming Media Literate

Alison Amoroso, media literacy expert and board member of the Independent Press Association, recommends media literacy classes for all children. …

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