Ah, advertising to kids. It’s everywhere nowadays. You can’t get through a YouTube video, TV show, internet article, or anything else without seeing ads. I found this scary article over on AdWeek that says not only does the average eight year old spend 2.5 hours per day watching TV, and another 1.5 hours on the internet, but they see over tens of thousands of ads per year. Ouch.
What’s the problem with all this advertising to our kids – and what can we parents do about it? How does this affect kids and their money? Lets explore.
What’s The Problem
There are actually a number of issues with rampant advertising directed at kids. Here are the top four that really annoy me as the mother of three.
Greed: It makes them want more, and more, and more. Most advertisements are for toys, unhealthy food, electronics, and games. These are almost always things kids don’t need – and didn’t even know existed before they saw the commercial. Commercials are full of smiling, happy kids with all the latest toys and gadgets. Kids can feel inadequate and like “everyone else” has whatever is being advertised.
Whining: If you’re a parent, you’re intimately familiar with this. This is when your kids suddenly develop an urgent need for a “something”, where they MUST HAVE IT RIGHT NOW, even if they’ve never seen or heard of it before. This often happens in the checkout aisle of the grocery store, when they see some candy. But it most certainly can come from advertisement. Every parent has heard their kids suddenly start talking about something they saw on TV non-stop. If you cut down on the advertising, you cut down on the whining. Although you still need to avoid that candy in the check-out.
Gullible: Sorry to say it but our kids are gullible. What do I mean by this? They can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. According to “The Cut“, “it isn’t until kids are 11 or 12 that they can fully recognize that people trying to sell them something might not be telling them the truth, and kids younger than that often have trouble even distinguishing commercial from non-commercial messages.” Being the mother of several older children (14 and 10) and a little one (2) I can say for sure this is true. When they’re small they basically think of ads as real, and don’t necessarily have the critical thinking skills to distinguish fantasy from reality. You need to help them with this until they’re old enough to do it themselves.
It’s Everywhere: Advertising is literally everywhere your kids turn. If you have cable, it’s rampant – there are about 15 minutes of commercials per hour. On the internet, 87% of popular children’s websites contain ads. Children’s magazine sport ads, including for products like alcohol and cigarettes. There are even advertisements in schools!
Here’s an info-graphic to represent what I think are the saddest facts about kids and ads.
Affects on Kids and Their Money
All this advertising consumption teaches kids that there’s one thing to do with your money – to spend it on stuff.
Think about the lessons kids learn here. That other parents are out there getting their kids all this amazing stuff, and they’re missing out. Or that the only thing you do with your money is use it for consumption. It also shows a false view of the world – there are no commercials for apples and carrots, but plenty for fast food. There’s also no commercials touting the fun of saving your money and investing it for long-term growth, but lots for buying new toys, apps, video games, and other such things.
So it’s no wonder that kids often spend money like water. No sooner does a dollar enter their pocket than it’s burning a hole, just begging to be spent.
What We Can Do
So as parents interested in raising less materialistic kids, what can we do to help? I have a few ideas, and things I do in my household.
Cut the cable cord. If you still have cable, getting rid of it will cut waaaaay down on the number of advertisements your kids watch. If you’re not sure how to cut that cord, check out my reflections on being a cable-free family, or my 11 steps to cut cable. There are so many better, advertising free (or light) options available nowadays. And bonus, they’re almost always less expensive too!
Talk to your kids. Long time readers know that I’m a big fan of having money conversations from everyday events with my kids. You can check out my frugal family fun page for more times I’ve deployed this strategy. Advertising is the perfect opportunity to do this. If your kids ask for something, or talk about how cool something is – ask them about it! Ask them what makes it so cool. Why the kids in the ad would be saying it’s fun. How long would they play with that thing? Asking these kinds of questions helps teach your kids to think critically about the ads they see. Remember that we live in an advertising laden world, so I prefer to teach my kids to deal with it rather than restrict everything.
Restrict their screen time. Even though I teach my kids to deal with ads, I still don’t want them in front of a screen all day. This becomes increasingly difficult as they get older – at age seven they’re fine with half an hour a day of screen time (computer plus TV), but at 14 and 10 they have stronger objections. After all, none of their friends have this kind of restriction, and they have so much fun watching YouTube and… OK mostly watching YouTube. Still, I keep fighting the good fight. When we talk about it, I tell them that I want them to become interesting young men with varied interests. Someone who watches some videos while reading books, doing art, working on their Eagle Scout merit badges, and so on both has diverse interests and less time being exposed to unrealistic versions of the world.
I Want To Know
Let me know what you think – how do you protect your kids from advertising? What was the most annoying advertising-related experience you’ve seen with your kids? Let me know in the comments!
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