Fourth Grade: Children and the Media
The Influence of Commercials
Do commercials really influence children? Yes. Your children remember and recite fairly complicated slogans, jingles and songs from advertising. Children are very aware of brand names and do try to influence their parents to purchase advertised goods. One way to reduce the influence of commercials is to discuss with your children your reasons for purchasing a particular product. Teach your children what you look for. You can also talk back to the television when your child is around. Point out flaws in reasoning or photographic techniques that make a product appear better than it really is.
Children may learn misleading information about nutrition from commercials. Cream-filled snack cakes are vitamin-enriched. Chocolate and caramel candy bars are "packed with the protein power of peanuts." More than half the food ads on children's TV are for heavily sugared foods such as presweetened cereals and snack foods. Less than 4 percent of the food ads directed to children are for meat, bread, fruits, vegetables or dairy products.
This nutritional "education" is important because food habits are established in childhood. Children are in what some commercials refer to as "the cavity-prone years." A diet high in sugary foods can increase the incidence of cavities. A diet high in sugary or fatty foods can also increase the chances for weight problems and unhealthy food choices.
Help Your Child Become a Good Consumer of Television
The impact of TV on children and families continues to be hotly debated. Even a quick glance at the importance of TV in daily life explains why.
- Almost all homes today (98 percent) have at least one TV set.
- The average TV set is in operation more than seven hours a day.
- Children as young as 9 months of age already are watching TV as much as 90 minutes a day.
- By age 4, children average four hours a day watching TV.
- By the time young people graduate from high school, they will have spent more time watching TV than on any other activity except sleeping.
The time your child spends watching TV can, if structured appropriately, be a positive experience. The following suggestions can help.
1. Make TV time family time. Identify TV programs that the family can watch together. Spend time talking about what happened on a show. What feelings do family members have about a character or the way a show/movie ended? How would your child change the show/movie? These types of questions can lead to an evening of sharing that can strengthen your relationship with your child and pass on your values.
2. Turn the TV off when a program is over. Model this selective viewing for your children.
3. Discuss family values. Ask your child to identify the ways in which a family on a TV program is different from your own family. Discuss why your family has its own values, beliefs and home rules.
4. Check your child's level of understanding of a program. Is your child able to tell the difference between the stunts used on TV programs and reality? Be sure to explain that the stunts shown on TV may be dangerous and should not be attempted at home.
5. Plan follow-up activities to watching TV. Trips to the library, zoo, museum, lake or even the backyard can expand the meaning of the many TV programs that deal with animal and plant life, math, music and most any subject area.
6. Challenge your child to be a good consumer. Spend time listing products shown in TV commercials and decide with your child which of these products to sample. Compare the products with the TV commercials. This activity works best and is least expensive for TV food commercials.
7. Identify TV snack foods. Many parents worry about the junk food their children choose to eat while watching TV. Work with your children to identify a list of approved TV snacks. Post this list on the refrigerator door. While you may not always be able to enforce the list, its presence will at least remind your children of the family agreement regarding TV snacks.
8. Plan alternative activities to watching TV. As a family, plan one or more nights a week to do something other than watch TV.
Reprinted with the permission of the Iowa State University Extension. © 2008 Iowa State University Extension.
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