Helping your child to see through advertising hype

Television can be an important learning tool for your children, but it must be used with the greatest care. As part of the television “picture”, advertising can provide your children with a great deal of information about the world around them. But, it must always be remembered that children need close parental guidance when it comes to advertising.

It is useful with very young children to start by talking about the general concept of advertising. For the purposes of such a discussion, parents may want to clip and then refer to magazine or newspaper ads for starters. Show your child such a print ad and ask:

  •  What do you notice first when you look at this ad?
  • What is pretty or ugly about this ad?
  • What product is this ad for?
  • How does that ad make you feel about the product?
  • What questions should you ask before buying this product? (Encourage your child to seek more information than the ad contains. How is the product used? Does it work well? Do you really need this particular product? What other comparable products are available and at what cost?)
This line of questioning is guaranteed to spark a lively discussion! More importantly, it will serve to start your child out on the path to wise consuming.
Children should know that the purpose of advertising is to get people interested in buying products, not to entertain the viewer or reader.
Extend these discussions to television advertising. Talk about the ways in which the product is made attractive on the television screen.
Assist your child in identifying the claims made in the ad and then sort out the statements into two categories: fact and opinion. Ask your child to consider which of the claims can be “proven” and which cannot.
Parents should strive to keep their discussions about advertisements on a level that their children will understand.
Children should learn that advertising gives them some, but not all of the information needed to make informed choices. Help your child to understand that product information does not come from advertising exclusively and that a commercial is only an “introduction”, not the whole story.
How can you help your child learn to investigate products before making a decision about a purchase? The best way for parents to make this point is to lead through personal example.
Involve your child in the decisions about family purchases, from clothing to appliances.

Let your child see how you weigh the relative merits of particular brands. Help your child in making similar decisions when it comes to even minor toys and entertainment purchases.

Reality checks

Whenever and wherever possible, parents should share in their children’s TV viewing and urge them to discuss and think critically about what they are seeing. When viewing commercials, talk about the various elements which may make them deceptive or misleading.

These discussions need not create cynics nor inevitably lead to the conclusion that all advertising is suspect. Instead, “reality checks” can foster responsible decision-making behaviour” in growing children.

Make it real for your child

The following are additional strategies for drawing your child into the process of examining advertisements:
STEPPING OUT. Identify a product you have seen advertised on TV and then visit a store that has the product. Compare the television version with the actual product. Ask your child: How are they different? Which is more exciting?
KEEP A LOG. Monitor the types of commercials that appear on children’s programming. Help your child keep a record of how many of each type (food, toys and clothing) are shown in a given period of time.
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE. Look for words that come up again and again in advertising. See if your child can find particular words that are used for particular types of products, like “delicious” for cereal, or “beautiful” for dolls.
WHO’S THAT GIRL? Identify the spokesperson for the product and encourage your child to speculate about why an advertiser may have chosen that particular person. How is the product made more attractive or interesting by virtue of its association with the spokesperson?
WHAT’S THE STORY? Break the commercial down into the parts of its “story”. Ask your child to decide which elements of the story provide information about the product and which parts are not relevant to a purchasing decision. Encourage your child to list the things he or she still needs to know after seeing the commercial.
Educators report that one of the most effective ways to teach children is to involve the youngsters directly in the subject that is at hand. By encouraging your children to put themselves “in the shoes” of the makers of products and their advertisers, you open up a new and exciting way for your children to think and make informed decisions.
The exercises suggested here should help your children to sit up, pay attention and decide for themselves about advertisements that appear on television or in newspapers and magazines.