Marketing to children isn’t a new concern. As long as there has been marketing, some of it has been directed at children. Comic books and television shows designed to sell toys are nothing new. The internet, however, has made this ubiquitous and has increased the ability of advertisers to use targeted marketing.
Children are often less sophisticated than adults in understanding the purpose of something they see. Most children don’t fully differentiate between commercials and entertainment. Entertainment that doubles as a commercial, whether it be a show designed to sell a toy line or a sponsored video on YouTube, can further complicate this.
Advertisers train children from a young age to be consumers by emphasizing the importance of collecting all pieces and accessories in a toy line. This process of buying items purely for the purpose of owning a complete set can have a long-term effect on how children view spending and purchasing.
You don’t have to force your child to give up their favorite shows and YouTube videos entirely. Just help them be a savvier viewer by encouraging them to ask questions. Ask your child to consider the motive of creators of shows and videos. Is a show intended to entertain, inform, persuade, or a combination of all those things? What is the creator trying to persuade them to do and how would the creator benefit from that? Show your child how to check videos they find online to see if they are sponsored content. Discuss how these videos differ from other videos the creator puts out.
Try to model thoughtful spending habits for your children. Show them how you consider purchases you make and look for information beyond what is available in the ad before buying. Explain how you consider whether the purchase is truly useful or necessary in your life. If reviews are available for the product show your child how to read those.
The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood advocates for children to have limited screen time and for parents to be aware of what their children are watching. They also discourage advertising in schools and other child-centered spaces and encourage the FCC and other government organizations to pass stricter laws regarding how advertisers can market to children.
Schools are often seen as exclusive places for education, but unfortunately, many schools must rely on money from large corporations. When schools are forced to choose between funding and providing commercial-free spaces for children, they will understandably often choose to fund. Getting involved with your children’s school can give you a way to express your concerns about ads in learning environments. Perhaps you can start a fundraiser that will allow the school to be less reliant on corporate sponsors. Discuss ads and sponsorship your child sees at school in the same way you discuss advertising they see in other settings.
We often think of children as being savvy technology users because of how quick they are to adapt. Just because your child can navigate a website or turn on a show doesn’t mean they fully understand what they are watching or are able to comprehend its purpose. As a parent, you can help guide your child toward being a sophisticated and thoughtful consumer.