How advertising influences our kids
Advertising affects all children. So, what should parents be aware of when it comes to the ways your child is being targeted by advertising?
EFFECTS ON TODDLERS
Up to two years old, a child cannot differentiate between advertisements and actual TV programmes. By the ages of three and six years old, a child can:
- Not tell TV programmes and ads apart.
- Not separate entertainment videos and advertisements on YouTube.
- Probably have difficulty understanding that an advertisement is trying to sell them something.
- Consider advertisements to be fun, helpful or entertaining.
- Not always understand the messaging of the advertisement.
The only way to combat this as a parent is to limit the time your child spends watching television or YouTube videos. They are not old enough yet to understand how ads work!
EFFECT ON SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN
By seven to eleven years old, children:
- Can grasp that advertising is trying to make them buy something.
- Can remember messages and slogans from the advertising they consume.
- Might recognise some of the compelling techniques being used, such as exaggerating how good the product is, etc.
- May not be able to look critically at what the advertisement is doing.
- May not realise that the product may not be exactly as described, or that any negative aspects are not being shown. (For example, with a cool game, excessive screen time could be harmful.)
Starting the conversation
The best way to try and minimise the consequences of advertising on your child at this age is to establish an open dialogue around it. Speak to your child about the point of advertising and try to instil a questioning attitude in them, so that they develop the ability to think for themselves. One of the easier ways to do this is to examine the messaging in the advertisements they see regularly. Look at the claims in these ads. What is the product? Who is it for? What is it for? Are there any negative aspects to the product? Ask your child if they can pick out any strategies in these advertisements that are being used to sell the product. Getting your child into the habit of looking at what they see in this manner will help them work out how an advertisement is making a product look so appealing. This in turn helps them to control the influence advertising can have over them.
Some suggested questions to ask your child include:
What emotion does the advertisement spark in you? This could be fear, joy, the desire to belong etc. Has the advertising company paid someone famous to be in the advertisement? Is the advertisement connecting an idea with the product? Is the ad making the product more appealing by including something for free? These questions will support you in teaching your child to be more aware of ads on TV, online or on social media.
EFFECTS ON TEENAGERS
By the age of 12 or 13, children:
- Understand the goal of advertising and are able to take the advertised information and make a decision about what they want.
- May not grasp how advertising makes items more expensive.
- May struggle to recognise subtle product placement methods.
- Might not realise that clicking an advertisement on social media sends data to the advertisement creators
Teenagers over 14…
- May have developed a critical lens for advertising claims and may comprehend the concept of sales.
- May not be aware yet that social media platforms collect their data to target advertising to them specifically.
- May not have the maturity and processing abilities yet to make objective assessments of political advertising
A great way to help your teen in becoming more immune to the effects of advertising is to look at the ideas advertising sells, as well as the products. Generally, adverts sell a product by connecting it to the concept of an ‘ideal’ life. Examine together the more nuanced messaging within advertising and the ideas around how men, women, girls and boys should look, behave, think, value, eat, drink, feel etc. and what it means.
These are some suggested questions for your teenager to consider:
Does anyone you know in real life have a lifestyle like the one being advertised? How real is that lifestyle? Why aren’t healthy foods like fruits and vegetables advertised like fries and pizza? What messages does advertising give about gender, body image, family life and cultural diversity? Is it true to reality? What is the link between the personal information you give away on social media and the type of advertising you see on social media?
ADVERTISING STRATEGIES TO LOOK OUT FOR
Make it a habit to spot these common advertising strategies with your child:
- Free gifts: this means your child will get a free item with the purchase, usually part of a set, so that they will buy it repeatedly to collect the full set.
- Fun and games: By purchasing this product, you get to play a game and might win a prize.
- Overpromise: the product will change your life in some way –
- Appealing to your feelings: these are the ones that make you fearful or tug at your heart strings.
- Celebrity endorsement: A celebrity sells the product making you think you will be like the famous person if you have the product.
- Cartoon: a cartoon character that you trust and like shows you a product to make it more appealing.
- Fake looks: these adverts use soft lighting and artificial sets, so the product looks bigger or better than it is.
- Repetition: exposing you to the same thing over and over gets you to remember and recognise the product.
- Music: fun jingles, catchy motifs or popular songs make an advertisement and its product more appealing.
- Humour: laughing makes you like an advertisement and its product more.
- Storytelling: the advertisement shows you a story, so you want to keep watching.
Advertising has huge influence over children and it’s important you teach them about its power. It’s best if you encourage them to have conversations about what they see on TV, online, on their social media and more. This way they can slowly learn to understand the influence of advertising and how this can affect them in life.