Avoiding Advertising for Kids

The influence of advertising on our children is something many parents are growing concerned about, and rightfully so.  Researchers have shown that exposure to advertising has a profound impact on children’s tobacco and alcohol use, with 3-6 year olds showing equal brand recognition for certain tobacco mascots and Mickey Mouse (Villani, 2001).  Unfortunately, it seems that it’s almost unavoidable.  You can’t walk down the street in most cities without seeing ads on billboards, buses or benches.  But nowhere does it seem more pervasive or influential than the ads on TV, which matters because TV is still the most used form of media for children today (Strasburger, Jordan, & Donnerstein, 2010), topping computers, gaming systems, and even music.

Although rules have changed about what can and cannot be advertised during children’s shows (with the removal of any tobacco or alcohol products), what is advertised still has unintended consequences for young viewers.  For example, researchers have shown that the massive amounts of fast food and junk food advertising that is aimed at children has an effect on their food preferences and beliefs about what constitutes healthy food as well as directly influencing what they choose to eat and thus levels of obesity (Andreyeva, Kelly, & Harris, 2011; Robinson, Borzekowski, Matheson, & Kraemer, 2007).  Ask any marketing executive about how influential advertising is and if they’re honest, they’ll tell you it’s a gold mine for them, especially with children who are highly susceptible to these types of external pressures.  And if you don’t have a marketing executive to talk to, just look at the amount that is spent on TV advertising and you can see that they wouldn’t be spending this if it wasn’t coming back to them in spades.

So what is a parent to do?  Ban all TV?

Well, some parents do remove TV altogether, but not all parents want to go that route.  I can say that personally our family enjoys watching certain shows and I have found some programmes to be great for my kids.  So for those of us who aren’t ready or willing to ditch the TV, what are we to do?  Luckily for us, there are steps we can take to minimize or remove the damage that advertising is having on our children…

Talk to your kids and make them media literate.  This is one of the more time consuming but beneficial things you can do.  If you can explain to your kids why people advertise, what untruths or skewed truths may be present in ads, and how to think critically about advertising, you may be able to minimize the effects in the long-term.  (Arguably, even without the ill effects on children, we should try to instill this type of thinking in our children.)  One caveat though is that this is not enough on its own, especially with younger children.  In fact, some research suggests it may not do much for our youngest children who cannot process this information in a critical manner at all times (Rozendaal, Lapierre, van Reijmersdal, & Buijzen, 2011).  Because of this, you may need to be watching the shows with your children to be able to talk about advertising as it comes up and help them learn to not sit passively while watching ads, but rather engage when they come on.

Use DVDs.  Simple really, but get rid of cable and all the advertising that goes with it and focus on DVDs.  Although there is advertising at the start of DVDs, it is almost always focused on other movies and not the junk food, toys, and other things seen advertised on TV.  Oh, and you can still skip them meaning you avoid them altogether.  Most kid shows are available in this format and they can enjoy the show without you worrying about what they’ll be seeing before, after, and during.

Subscribe to Netflix.  Like DVDs, but on demand and with updated selections.  If you buy a good Blu-Ray or DVD player, it will likely be Netflix compatible, meaning you don’t need to purchase anything else to set yourself up (so long as you have the Internet).  You can also get Netflix on laptops or desktop computers meaning it’s completely portable (again, so long as you have the Internet).  A further bonus of Netflix is that you can set it up for kids only when using it online or through gaming systems (like Playstation) and so your children won’t even have access to some of the shows you would prefer they avoid.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us as parents to help our children understand how advertising influences them, but also to avoid it whenever possible.  There’s no reason to force our children to bear the consequences of advertising that targets them when they are too young to handle it and when there are such wonderful options available that remove the problem.  Remember: You don’t need to get rid of the TV if you don’t want to, but just realize there are ways for your kids to enjoy this particular media form without the unintended effects of advertising if you’re willing to invest in it.


Research Cited

Andreyeva, T., Kelly, I.R., & Harris, J.L. (2011).  Exposure to food advertising on television: associations with children’s fast food and soft drink consumption and obesity.  Economics and Human biology, 9, 221-233.

Robinson, T.N., Borzekowski, D.L.G., Matheson, D.M., & Kraemer, H.C. (2007).  Effects of fast food branding on young children’s taste preferences.  Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 161, 792-797.

Rozendaal, E., Lapierre, M.A., van Reijmersdal, E.A., & Buijzen, M. (2011).  Reconsidering advertising literacy as a defense against advertising effects.  Media Psychology, 14, 333-354.

Strasburger, V.C., Jordan, A.B., & Donnerstein, E. (2010).  Health effects of media on children and adolescents.  Pediatrics, 125, 756-767

Villani, S. (2001). Impact of media on children and adolescents: a 10-year review of the research.  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 392-401.

By Tracy Cassels

November 18, 2013