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How to Raise an Educated Consumer

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Children, from the day they are born, are significant consumers. Think of the newborn in her crib complete with a hanging mobile, the 9-month-old watching a Baby Mozart video, the 2-year-old wanting the new Beanie Baby toy he sees on a toddler television program, the 5-year-old asking for the action toy pictured on the cereal box, the 9-year-old wanting cut-off jeans, the 15-year-old downloading the latest music from Madonna, the ultimate Material girl. Children have enormous power, both indirect and direct, in influencing what parents buy for them

Parents have few choices in dealing with the steady stream of want. They can resist demands they consider unreasonable or inappropriate, or they can give in, tired of the struggle or fearful that their children won't meet the standards of their friends. Advertisers capitalize on this dilemma. There is, however, a solution. Parents can educate themselves and their kids to be attuned to the impact, the truthfulness and the purpose of ads.

Background information

  • Industry spending on advertising to children has increased during the last decade from $l00 million in 1990 to more than $2 billion in 2000.
  • The average American child sees 40,000 commercials a year on television alone.
  • Sixty-six percent of children have a television set in their bedrooms.

These facts are good for business, but can affect a child's social, emotional and physical health, in various ways. Here are just a few:

  • Advertising can encourage a child to believe that his/her personality and likeability can be expressed in things.
  • Excessive materialism can affect the development of children's self-image and values.
  • Aggressive marketing of fast food commercials featuring candy and soft drinks contributes to overweight.

Tips for parents to sharpen their children's consumer awareness

  • Explain that commercials and other ads are planned to make people want things they don't necessarily need, as pointed out by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  • Discuss the products they see advertised in terms of what they actually do for people.
  • Have children discuss ads in children's magazines and television and help them critique what they see, from a favorable and unfavorable point of view.
  • Encourage kids to compare advertisers' claims with their own actual experience with the product.
  • Put the television set in a common room in the household so parents will be aware of what their children are watching.
  • Help kids understand that they can't always have everything they see advertised.

Special issues for younger kids

  • Limit the amount of television children watch to one to two hours of quality programming, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Children learn best through interactions with real people.
  • Keep in mind that young children watching television often can't distinguish between the program and the commercial.
  • Encourage watching public television stations.
  • Tape programs to be replayed without the commercials.
  • Be aware of what they're watching and talk about the characters and the stories in the programs.
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