Hello friends! I have been reading a fascinating book lately called Affluenza: How Overconsumption Is Killing Us – and How to Fight Back. Have you heard of it? Essentially, the book analyzes consumerism, or buying/spending habits in the US and other nations over the last several decades. I highly recommend it as a read, although I have to admit that it makes me pretty sick to hear so many incredible details about how much consumption (in the US in particular) has been ramped up in recent decades, in no small part due to advertising.
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However, in addition to making me sick, one part of the book in particular made me MAD. Not mad at the authors, but mad at outrageous marketers. Here is a quote from the passage in the book that really sparked my ire.
Marketers openly refer to parents as “gatekeepers,” whose efforts to protect their children from commercial pressures must be circumvented so that those children, in the rather chilling terms used by the marketers, can be “captured, owned, and branded.”
That passage really shocked and upset me. As the mother of a four month old baby, it angers me to know that marketers think of my child (and all children) in this way. The authors went on to describe the details of a 1996 marketing conference (held where else but Disney World?) where speaker after speaker advised would-be advertisers that the way to “capture” children is to use the following strategy in their advertising.
Portray parents as fuddy-duddies who aren’t smart enough to realize their children’s need for the products being sold. It’s a proven technique for neutralizing parental influence in the market-child relationship.
Excuse me? Are they kidding????!? So I thought I would do some research and then write an article to include some suggestions on how to minimize the effect of advertising on children. I started where you might expect, with a Google search. Chirp chirp. Can you hear those crickets chirping? Yeah, I found… well, not nothing, but not as much as I was hoping to find.
Kids and Advertising
I did, however, come across a plethora of fascinating facts about media influence on children. Before I get into it though, I’ll tell you why I think this has a huge impact on family finance. Put simply, it’s because children can have enormous influence on parents’ spending habits. Whether it’s the cereal they decide is their favorite or the toys they request for Christmas, little ones can have a big influence on family spending. And marketers totally know it.
One of the first articles that I came across on my web search was this British article from 2002. They analyzed 83 early school-age children and specifically looked at their letters to Father Christmas, or Santa Claus. They noticed that children who watched more television were noted to request more toys from Father Christmas, and they also requested more specific brands.
They compared the group of British children to a similar group of children from Sweden, where marketers are prohibited from targeting advertising at young children. Not surprisingly, they noticed that the Swedish children asked Father Christmas for fewer toys. Let me repeat that: It is actually illegal for marketers in Sweden (and several other western European nations) to target advertising at young children. Wow. How different would that be?
According to another article, US children typically view at least 40,000 advertisements per year. That same article also gave some shocking information regarding exactly why marketing to children is such big business.
In 2002, US four- to twelve-year-olds spent $30 billion. American twelve- to seventeen-year-olds spent $112.5 billion in 2003.
Isn’t that absurd? That article reports that younger kids tend to receive most of their income from their parents, while teenagers tend to receive more of their income from part-time jobs. But check out this fascinating statistic: In 2003, 33 million US teens aged twelve to nineteen each spent about $103 per week.
$103 per week seems like an awful lot to me! And that was over ten years ago- what is it now? I guess teenagers who drive might be buying their own gas (and paying for their own car payment, insurance, etc.), but still. What else are they spending that money on? I’m hoping that the older kids with cars (and hopefully jobs) are really skewing that statistic upward, because the thought of a twelve-year-old blowing through that much cash every week seems pretty crazy.
So what can be done? Like I said, I did not find as much as I wanted to that seemed to address exactly how to help children be less susceptible to advertising. When I think about it, I guess it makes sense. After all- it’s not like any advertisers would ever sponsor research on that topic. 🙂 Also, advertising is incredibly common in the US- it’s everywhere from TV to billboards to internet to even the sides of the school bus in some communities! That’s pretty hard to avoid.
Limit TV Time
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics website and research provided helpful info. Pediatricians typically recommend no more than two hours of “screen time” per day. Pediatricians are concerned not just about the influence of advertising, but they are also concerned that too much TV time can lead to “violent or aggressive behavior, substance use, sexual activity, obesity, poor body image, and decreased school performance.” Yikes!
Ok, so limiting TV time is a good thing for multiple reasons.
Educate Your Kids About Advertising
In addition to limiting TV time, there are some other things that parents can do to help here. This great article describes steps parents can take to “arm kids with critical thinking skills” regarding commercials they see on TV. Some of their suggestions are to help children identify advertising (since young kids in particular may not even be aware of the difference between an ad and regular TV) and explain the purpose of advertising (including the fact that commercials are someone’s opinion, not necessarily facts).
The authors also recommend challenge kids to analyze ads for themselves, and talk to them about the hidden messages that certain ads may be trying to send to those who view them. I think that these things are especially important to think about as we head into the holiday season and our television stations and newspapers are soon to be inundated with advertisements for various products. Talk about consumerism gone mad!
Give Kids Strategies For Determining What Makes Their Hearts Happy
Lastly, one of my all-time favorite blog posts was written last December by my friend Shannon who blogs over at The Heavy Purse. In this incredibly helpful post, Shannon shares how to help your child create their holiday gift wish list. I think she offers an excellent strategy here to help children narrow down their wish list, AND it helps us as parents to figure out what they TRULY want, and not just every spur-of-the-moment “Oh I want that!” when the ad comes on TV.
What do you think? Parents, do you have any other tips for helping to minimize the effect of advertising on your children? Is anyone else now thinking of getting rid of their TV or moving to Sweden? (Just kidding… I think).
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