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Ad-Proofing Your Kids

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Preschoolers think food wrapped in a McDonald’s wrapper tastes better than the same food unwrapped. Stanford University researcher Dr. Tom Robinson’s just-published study showed that kids’ taste was “physically altered by the branding.” He said he found it remarkable that such young children were already so influenced by advertising.


Kids are bombarded with advertising messages everywhere they turn. Helping them understand how advertising works can help protect them from being exploited by advertisers.


Start by teaching kids under seven the difference between a TV show and a commercial. Point out commercials, and use a timer to show them when the commercial begins and ends. Ask questions to help them recognize that the commercial’s purpose is to sell them a product. What is the commercial selling? How does the commercial make them feel? Would they like to buy the product?


Once kids understand that advertising is about persuading them to buy a product, they can begin to identify other types of advertising messages—such as product placement, Web site games, and guerilla marketing. Watch television or play a video game with your child, and find the products and logos used as a prop or part of the storyline. Have a conversation about how the messages try to get you to buy the product. Here are a few tips to get the conversation started.


1. Share some facts.


  • Kids see more than 250,000 commercials aimed at their appearance by age 17.
  • The food and beverage industry spends more than $10 billion targeting children and youths though TV ads, coupons, contests, public relations promotions, and packaging.
  • 80% of the TV commercials are for fast food, candy, cereal and toys.




2. Give your kids some ad-proofing decoder tips:


  • Ask them who they think created the ad and why they’re sending the messages they are. Who makes money from the ads?
  • What tricks do your kids think were used by the advertiser to make them want to buy the products being promoted? Does the ad use a favorite celebrity? Does it have some feelings associated with the product—like happiness?
  • What isn’t the ad telling them? Calorie count missing? Alcohol illegal for people under age 21? The featured video game costs a mint? Your kids don’t want to feel suckered any more than you do.




3. Point out the real consequences of ads.



How many calories are in that jumbo burger and soda and those extra-large fries? How many hours of exercise would it take to burn those calories off? Do kids even know where excess calories that don’t get used go? Might not be a bad idea to tell them.


Ad-proofing your kids means that they’ll have more freedom of choice about which messages they choose to listen to—and which they don’t.


Related Story: Is Any TV OK for Children?

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