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By Keren Perles
US companies spend over $15 billion annually on advertising to children. Ads are everywhere, from social media to TVs to billboards. “Marketing to children is a major factor in many of the public health and social problems facing children today,” says child psychologist Dr. Susan Linn. There’s no escaping advertisements in our consumer society, but these five steps will help you teach your kid to look at ads with a more critical eye.
Check Your Own Ad-itude
Do ads for the latest Apple product have you reaching for your wallet? Are you fixed to the TV during the commercial breaks? Before you can help your kid get savvy about the tricks behind marketing, you need to take a look at your own consumption. Research advertisement psychology to gain some insight into how companies make money by manipulating an audience’s vulnerabilities. Ads selling cars or beauty products are the most obvious cases-in-point. Take a closer look and ask yourself, what is the company really promising with the product—just soft hair, or love and success too?
Get an Early Start
Children under 2 years old should avoid TV completely, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. But once your child’s old enough to tune in to the tube, start teaching him how to defend himself against the ad avalanche. Linn recommends saying simple things like, “That commercial seems to be telling boys that they should want to hurt people, and that’s not a good message.” He'll begin to question advertisements instead of just soaking them in.
Just Say No
It can be tough to tell your kid that he can’t have the latest toy he saw during a commercial, but a firm “no” is sometimes the only way to curb the harmful effects of advertisements on your little one. He may not be able to understand why at first, but giving him that new toy car because he “needs” it is actually reinforcing the marketing message. Help him build a fort out of recycled boxes or think of new games to play with the cars he already has instead.
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Turn the Tables
For a fun and educational activity, get a bunch of random, silly objects from around the house and have your child make a pretend advertisement for a made-up product. He can draw a picture to try and sell you a pipe-cleaner nose-scratcher or perform a commercial to convince you that a cardboard tube actually gives you super-sight! He’ll start to realize how advertisers spin tales to get people to buy things.
Sponsor Some Ad-Free Time
In our digital age, it’s easy to forget how refreshing it is to take a step back from media outlets and get some fresh air. Have a special time every week to unplug and unwind by taking a family hike to enjoy some commercial-free, natural beauty. Or, stay in and do some recycled crafts instead of planting yourselves in front of the television. Focusing on creating and reusing rather than consuming will show your child that having fun isn't all about buying new things.
You can't prevent your child from seeing advertisements everywhere he goes, but you can help him filter harmful marketing messages. With some guidance, he'll develop independent, ad-free thinking that will stay with him as he grows up.
Looking for more ways to take a break from advertisements and technology? Check out these seven ways to unplug.