For those of you who have not been keeping up with the blogs Shaping Youth or Corporate Babysitter (aka. Parents for Ethical Marketing), there has been a HUGE debate raging over a certain Target print ad. The debate even made it into a New York Times article! Since I have been away on another planet for the past two months (between the holidays and blog moving), I only just discovered this controversy last night as I tried to play a little catch-up with my Blogroll.
There has been enough said on all sides of this debate, so my two-cents on the intention or appropriateness of the photo would really be overkill at this point in the process. Besides, any intelligent remark would only be drowned by the endless sea of flaming comments that are bombarding these two unfortunate bloggers.
My point in bringing this up is not to stir up further controversy, but to mention my revelation when I first read about the Target ad: I must really be living under a rock to have not seen this ad that everyone else in the universe HAS seen!
Part of this ignorance or innocence (depending on your point of view) stems from the fact that I live in the boonies. The nearest Target is about 3 hours away so we don’t see billboard ads for anything much other than Cellular One and local businesses.
The other, and more major cause of my uninformed state, is obviously my lack of television. With TV, we would be exposed to far more marketing than we are now. This controversy made me think more about advertising and children.
Since the average child in the US is supposedly exposed to 40,000 TV-ads annually, it seems that parents ought to come up with some sort of strategy for dealing with this commercial barrage.
In my mind, there are three approaches to dealing with kids and TV commercials:
1) Don’t worry about the number of ads they see:
The easiest approach, but you still might want to read on. I have some suggestions further down for discussing ads with your kids and teaching them a bit about media manipulation.
2) Limit the number of ads that your children view:
Some practical suggestions for accomplishing this:
- Limit their network TV viewing time.
- Choose PBS over advertising channels. They’ll see some “brought to you by…” stuff, but that seems far less blatantly manipulative than mainstream ads.
3) Totally eliminate TV advertising from your children’s lives:
How to do it:
- Get rid of the TV (but this is awfully drastic and is not for everyone)
- Allow them to watch only PBS or any other commercial-free channels out there (won’t work if the “brought to you by…” bothers you too.)
- Have them watch only videos and DVDs.
- TIVO or videotape the kids’ programs minus the ads. Have them watch the recorded versions.
How to handle TV advertising and your children is a very individual choice and one approach does not work for all families. I am not preaching any particular philosophy here! Think about it, and decide for yourselves.
But whether your children see a lot of ads, or only a few, I think another important aspect of dealing with advertising and children is to talk to them about the ads that they see. Here are some suggestions:
For young children:
- Have them call out “Commercial!” whenever an ad comes on. Children under the age of 5 often have a hard time distinguishing between a program and a commercial.
- Have kids count the number of ads in one hour, or time the length of each commercial.
- Talk to children about what is being advertised and how it is made to seem appealing. Do they think that Barbie can really dance all by herself?
- Show kids that you are skeptical. Ask them who they think created the ad. What is the message? What information is missing from the ad? Do you believe what is being shown? Show them that many ads attempt to make the viewer feel that life would be better, or more comfortable, or “cooler” with the product in question.
- Mute the ad and have your child tell you what he or she thinks the ad is saying. Or have your child cover their eyes and then describe to you what they think the ad showed.
For better or for worse, ads are a part of our world and they aren’t going to go away anytime soon. So learning to deal with advertising and how it works seems to me to be an important life lesson, one that even TV-free kids will have to learn eventually.
Some of my suggestions came from PBS Parents: Children and Media
A related post of mine: Combating Commercials
Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons and photographer David Monniaux.