Understanding Advertising and Your Children

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As a Media Communications grad who walked away from the industry, I understand very well that TV, above all else, is a business. Advertising fuels the beast and keeps endless programming on the air and online. More than ever, we live in a society totally consumed by SCREENS and STUFF. Interesting how the two feed each other. Our kids are growing up in the most media-influenced generation in the history of man, and Media=Advertising, so they're also growing up in an overwhelmingly materialistic culture. Kids are bombarded with thousands of logos, images, and messages everywhere they go. It used to be just the ads on TV, but now, children are carrying little advertising machines everywhere they go. Iphones, ipods, video games, and cell phones all bid your child to buy more.

As so many of us discussed in a post from last month, children are being beckoned into a "lifestyle of wanting" from an incredibly young age. It is up to us, as parents, to put our foot down. The companies want nothing more than to manipulate your kids into wanting their toys, snacks, electronics, games, etc.  They are calculated, educated, and well-researched. They tap into your kid's brain when they are tuned out and turned off.

In the 60s, commercials were very different than they are today.  They showcased a product and gave a quick description of what it could 'do' using basic, boring camera shots and everyday dialogue. It would be as simple as, “I love my new slinky.  It's so fun!  It can climb down stairs.  You'd love one too!”

Today, advertising sells a lifestyle and a feeling.  In the 70s, researchers realized something remarkable about what happens to humans, and especially children, when they watch television - our brains shut down. The same goes for gaming and internet use.  Literally, the left side of the brain, which accounts for critical thinking, turns off.  The right side, however, kicks in to high gear, making us more emotionally driven and responsive.  Children are sitting ducks in front of media. Their opinions about the world are being fed right into their emotional being.  And now, it's not just advertising in it's truest form, it's everything they take in.  Everything is an advertisement – the programming they watch on channels like Family and Disney, even the games children play on PBS are often advertisements for products and shows.

We think we're engaging in entertainment, but we're actually programming ourselves and our children to consume. This is about creating little consumers who are not happy with themselves or what they have.  It is about hypnotizing an entire culture of people to be consumed with consumption.  Consumed with greed.  Consumed with building our American and Canadian dreams.  There are children who lie naked in the streets of a far-off place, parentless and dying while we buy more plastic.  My soul is more than unsettled. It is disgusted. Ladies, we can choose to take a stand in our own homes.

Here are a few ways you can protect and equip your family to deal with and respond to the influence of advertising:

1. Toss the TV.  Trust me, you don't need it.  In our family, it is one of the very proactive ways we’ve given advertisers, propaganda, and a myriad of other “influences” the boot.  Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if you truly need the television?  Consider the idea that the best way to protect your kids and avoid having them be defenseless prey for advertisers would be to eliminate the biggest source altogether.

2. If you’re keeping the TV, at least limit your kids’ intake.  This applies to time and content.  Remove televisions from bedrooms and limit their viewing by time and content.  DVDs are a good option for skipping the commercials, especially if you skip the previews.

3. Educate your children about how commercials and internet advertising works.  Children are amazing little people. Often they are quite annoyed and put-off when they learn that companies are trying to manipulate them into wanting their products. Explain to your children that commercials are meant to make us want things we don’t need and the companies pay a lot of money to have them on TV.

4. Encourage kids to point out the things that they find questionable about the commercials and advertising they may see. Discuss it with them openly and honestly.

5. Engage your children in meaningful conversation about life, giving, culture, and our purpose.  In our family, we talk freely about children in other countries.  It is our responsibility to partner with those who have less than we have.  We do this intentionally and have close friends in Uganda we share with and learn from.  We understand there is a higher value to our resources than simply buying things for ourselves.

"All too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced."  Mark 4:19  (could it be any more clear?)

Videos worth watching:

Consuming Kids - a little older but full of very insightful research and information

The Merchants of Cool - much more recent, PBS-produced, definitely worth a watch

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