I Want That!: Parents Offer Tips for Talking with Kids About Advertising (page 2)
We were in a store and (my five-year-old daughter) actually said, ‘I saw that in a commercial, I need it.’ It’s that blatant,” recalls San Francisco mother Lauren Smith. “I’ll ask her why she needs it, what she’s going to do with it, and then she cares less about it. She realizes she doesn’t need it just because some girl on TV with glitter in her hair said it was cool.”
“We want children to learn to think for themselves, and we want them to know they’re being influenced (by ads),” says Tessa Jolls, president of the Center for Media Literacy. “We teach them to ask, ‘What am I seeing? What am I hearing?’”
The average child in the US sees 40,000 commercials a year on TV alone, says the media literacy group Common Sense Media. And 80% of those commercials are for fast food, candy, cereal, and toys.
“The goal is to have parents, not media, remain the main influence in kids’ lives,” says Rebecca Randall, outreach director for Common Sense Media. “Kids love media, so when parents embrace their kids’ world, there’s an opportunity to talk about their world. Parents can counteract media by interacting with kids” while they watch TV or surf online, she adds.
Limit TV time—and the products it sells
Oakland mom Maria Manou says her six- and seven-year-old kids “want everything! If it’s cool, they want it. I tell them if they still want it at Christmas or for their birthday, maybe they can have it.” They don’t pout as much about not getting toys right away, adds her husband, Eric Manou, when they think about it long-term.
The Manous let their children help make smaller decisions, such as what cereal to buy. But at the store “they’ll say, ‘I saw that on TV, I want that,’” says Eric. “A lot of kids’ cereals come with a toy—I point out that they don’t need some junk toy.”
Humboldt County mother of two Katherine Fergus sets limits on TV and internet time for her five- and ten-year-old kids. She also doesn’t let them buy “clothing with advertisements. There’s plenty of great (clothes) without that stuff,” she adds.
“On American Idol the judges have huge glasses of Coca Cola—kids absorb that message,” adds Randall. But “if kids can interpret media messages, they’re more aware and they can recognize and avoid more negative messages.”
Teach that media doesn’t represent reality
“In TV commercials, advertisers use gasoline to make hamburgers look juicy,” says Randall. “They use glue to keep cereal from looking soggy. When you tell kids this, they’re able to (see) that the image (on TV) isn’t really the product. Kids should know that no matter how clever an ad is, it’s all meant to get them to spend money—or nag their parents to spend money.”
“(My daughter’s) so young she doesn’t have the attention span to listen to me explain,” says Smith. “But if I wait for a prompt and then ask her questions, she has to stop and think about it.” Questions, for example, about advertisers’ messages about how girls should look. “She’ll say, ‘That’s so beautiful!’ (about) a pink dress, and I’ll ask her why it’s beautiful. Or she’ll say I’m pretty when I put on makeup and I’ll ask, ‘Was I pretty before or is it just different?’ The messages kids get when they’re young, they just accept them. If they’re not questioned as they get older, they’ll continue to just accept the messages from the media, the government, etc.,” she adds.
Encourage children’s other interests
“We cook together, play sports, play music,” says Fergus. “We encourage (our older daughter’s) reading and imagination. We support her poetry and songwriting. She loves that!” They also spend a lot of time as a family—“we do sewing projects and we garden,” she says, adding that her five-year-old son especially enjoys being out in the garden.
“The biggest challenge to me is video games,” says San Jose mother Karen McVay, who is a member of local parenting group Las Madres. “My step-daughter is always playing Xbox and it’s hard to explain to her why it’s not healthy to sit for hours and hours in front of the TV. She gets a couple of magazines (with) ideas for projects and crafts to do at home. So we try to make things on our own. When we create things it’s so much better than just getting a new toy.”
Randall adds that some video games involve the whole family—and help kids get active. Her family “loves the Wii” (a new type of video game console that allows users to act out games), she says. “We have family tournaments, like who can get the best slalom on Wii skiing. Or who can do the most hoola hoops. After the first week, we were all saying our legs hurt. The kids play boxing games and they’re dripping in sweat. Is it better if they’re outside? Yes. But if you’re not in a safe neighborhood or you can’t watch them because you’re in the kitchen cooking dinner, then it’s great. It’s energetic and fun.”
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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