Raising children in a commercial culture

How do we as parents cope with commercial pressures on children? How can we managemarketing pressures and manipulation, and protect our children from persuasion andourselves from being pestered?

It’s almost impossible to escape the relentless stream of advertising and marketingto children these days. Children (and their parents) are the target of marketingpressures everywhere they go. Your children are not even safe in their own home,and especially not in the local supermarket or fast food outlet.

There is a worldwide rise in community concern about the intrusion of commercialisminto childhood. The pairing of children’s media with merchandise is increasingand there are increasing pressures for children to consume, and to define themselveson materialistic grounds.

Children are exposed to large volumes of advertising for toys, junk food, soft drinksand confectionery, sexualised clothing, games and movies that are violent. Exposure includes: 

  • at home on TV, both as commercials, and as product placements within programs
  • within many videogames
  • via internet sites set up to promote children’s toys and foods
  • at fast food outlet and supermarkets
  • within or related to cinema films as toy spinoffs, or product placements.

And all this before they reach three years of age!

Now, apart from the pestering to buy stuff, does this matter? Isn’t advertisingjust another way to give children information about products of interest to them?

Well, no! Advertising can cause harm because it:

  • creates wants where there are no real needs
  • encourages children to want goods that may be harmful to them
  • causes unnecessary conflict between parents and children
  • damages children’s self esteem, by making them anxious about themselves
  • creates life-long consumerist attitudes. 

Advertisers use all manner of manipulation to get your children to buy. They use: 

  • kids’ favourite colours, characters, music
  • appeal to their self esteem and their standing in their peer group
  • fast cutting, which creates a sense of excitement. 

Advertisers try to engage children, not just for their own pocket money, but toget their support for family purchases (from breakfast cereals to the new car),and to give them a warm and fuzzy feeling towards companies, so they’ll be lifelongcustomers.

As parents, we need to know that coping with advertising is a skill that most under-sevensdo not have.

Research tells us that: 

  • Children under five years do not distinguish between ads and programs, especially when the content is cartoon-like.
  • Children under seven years of age cannot understand the selling intent of ads- they can’t take the perspective of another, and know that the other is trying to sell them something.
  • Even children older than that, are still persuaded by the appeals in advertising (and aren’t we all!).
  • The emphasis on owning the right brands can contribute to the formation of ‘in’ groups and ‘out’ groups among children. This can lead to social impacts, such as, some children being teased, bullied, having low self esteem and being socially excluded.

Advertising to young children is not only exploitative and harmful, but basicallyan unfair practice.

Let’s look at some more facts and figures about ads.

On TV:

  • programs can contain up to 15 minutes of ads per hour
  • which is about 30 ads per hour
  • in 2.5 hrs of watching per day (the Australian average) that’s 75 ads
  • which adds up to 27,000 ads per year
  • and that doesn’t include within-program product placement.

The majority of these ads are likely to be for:

  • fast foods
  • sugary, salty, fatty snacks
  • sugary soft drinks
  • toys linked to TV shows or movies, with many designed for violent play.

A similar picture emerges in relation to internet sites. Many sites:

  • are set up just to promote products
  • will ask for children’s personal details so they can market some more. 

Movies, fast food outlets and supermarkets often promote products, using methodssuch as: 

  • cross promotions which push M classified movies (not recommended for those under 15 years)
  • toy-tie-ins which are designed for violent play.

Children’s magazines:

  • are marketed to and ‘read’ by many very young children, both boys and girls
  • are filled with advertising for various brands, sexualised images and tips on how to be ‘cool’.

What could help

  • Continually give the message to your child that you love them as they are. Do all you can to boost your child’s self esteem.
  • Learn about ads yourself and point out the tricks as you watch them with your child. Use simple phrases like ‘telling fibs’ or ‘tricking’ for very young children.
  • Keep young children out of the firing line, avoid ads.
  • Choose non-commercial media, like the ABC or children’s DVDs and videos.
  • When shopping compare products/ toys advertised on TV with the real thing.
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