Something insidious is creeping into your house. They move through air and wire, placing desires and suggestions into the youngest minds in your household—your children. And through children, they can affect the decisions, direction, and purpose of entire families.
You know these things as advertisements.
According to the American Psychological Association—also known as the APA—the advertising industry spends around 12 billion dollars a year on ads exclusively targeting children in an effort to persuade them to want certain goods and services.
Do you know how many commercials your children watch each day? The answer, according to a Princeton study, is around 40,000 in any given year. Are you aware of the number of ads that pop up on their phones, tablets, and computers in the space of a single week? The answer to this? Incalculable.
They’re the perfect victims.
Why, you might ask, would advertising agencies pour millions into tiny consumers who have no real purchasing power, who can’t even drive themselves to a store or order goods online?
Because children can persuade parents far better than a commercial or online ad ever could. Get into the pliable mind of the child, and you can more easily get into the more critical mind of the adult.
Children are simply too young to realize that ads are biased and meant to persuade, to tell them what to think, and adults don’t often consider the effects of advertising on their children—much less notice when they’re begging for advertised products. This, effectively, makes your children into just another tool of the advertising agencies.
Advertising Effects on Children
Being exposed to a constant barrage of advertisements can have several negative effects on your kids.
One of the most obvious comes as a result of the huge number of ads for sugary drinks, candy, cereals, and fast food restaurants that are aimed squarely at children. According to the APA, many children, after viewing an advertisement, are left with an intense craving for the advertised product, even when they don’t remember the commercial.
This translates into children pleading for these foods at supermarkets and gas stations, which can then cause parents to purchase these goods for their kids—this, then, leads to childhood obesity. Eating habits formed early in life often persist, and so this critical time can be tainted by advertising—your kids are being told what to want to eat, and they’re not being directed toward healthy foods.
That general lack of critical thought, when it comes to ads, is also extremely harmful to kids. Ad agencies often employ psychological research to make their messages even more effective in persuading children to need a product so that parents will buy, using color, product placment, and repetition that maximize desire.
The result of this focused bombardment is that, rather than developing their own internal needs and wants, they have needs and wants pressed upon them—they internalize these commercials and internet ads. This can lead to the formation of unhealthy, materialistic habits and thought processes, resulting in an “I need things to make me happy,” or “I am inadequate without these things,” mentality.
The formative years of a child are some of the most important of his or her life, and advertisements can create lasting changes during this time.
Advertising Effects on Families
Children shape the buying patterns of the families to which they belong—everything from vacation choices to meals to cars to decorations are influenced by kids. The Princeton study also asserts that “two to fourteen year olds have sway over 500 billion dollars a year in household purchasing.”
This means that advertisers are opening your wallet with the hands of your kids. Not too pleasant, is it?
What’s more, these kid-centric advertising techniques can be the root of parent-child conflict. Studies have found a link between a child’s viewing of ads and their pestering and pleading for products when taken to stores—in fact, the more a child watches ads, the more argumentative they become about the purchasing of a product.
When these kids are denied, they can become angry and fitful—the message on the television or tablet isn’t lining up with reality. Or, if the parents give in, the parents can feel resentful. No matter what, though, this is a recipe for unnecessary conflict, and over desires that did not even originate within the child!
Don’t underestimate the power of advertising in your family—the commercial that targets your 5-year-old may end up costing you both money and peace.
What You Can Do
So now that you’ve been made aware of the link between advertising, your children, and your family’s spending habits, what can you do?
You can make a difference in two main ways: active guidance, and restricting access.
When you practice active guidance with your child, you simply watch and experience media along with them while providing commentary and fostering discussion.
The goal, here, is to help your child become aware that commercials are made to persuade them, and that just because something is advertised, doesn’t mean it is needed, or even beneficial at all.
If you can teach your children not what to think, but how to think and evaluate, they’ll be better equipped to discern for themselves what they truly want and do not want.
The second option is simpler: restriction. This, just like it sounds, is simply restricting access to television and internet services over which advertisements might come. It’s also the most effective method of stopping pleading and begging behavior.
Cut ads off at the source, and you’ll mostly eliminate their influence.
Unplug From the Matrix
Making the move from mindless viewing to guided or restricted viewing can be difficult, but this is vital for the health of your children and family.
Be aware of ever-shifting advertising techniques that target your children, and you’ll be better equipped to live the life you want, rather than the life that corporations want you to live. The cost of ignoring the power that commercials have over your children is simply too costly to ignore.