Teaching TV Responsibility

Analyze Ads

If you're watching a show that you've TiVo'd, you can fast-forward through every commercial and your child will probably be better off. But I personally don't mind watching ads with my kids. It's not so much that I like the commercials themselves (though I will confess to having a few personal favorites).

But when we watch ads, I get the chance to offer a harsh critique. Really, if you don't do a little ad busting every now and then, how are you going to make sure your kid doesn't grow up feeling her life would have been better with clap lights or the Snuggie?

Begin with basics by asking your kid to tell you when she thinks she's watching an ad. (At this age, children are just starting to understand the difference between commercials and programming.) Once she gets the distinction, pose some pointed questions, such as, "What do think this advertisement is selling? Why do you think they're running it during a kids' show? Do you have enough money to buy it? Do you think the person who is selling the wacky gizmo might want you to ask me to buy it for you?"

"If you can get kids to think like this, you'll help them realize that marketers are trying to sell them something," says Paul. "And once they do, they may even stop nagging you to buy them stuff." Because kids hate feeling manipulated, your child just might be turned off when she realizes that advertisers are trying to make her want things she doesn't need. With any luck at all, the days of listening to your child beg for stuff like Floam and super-sweet cereals will be seriously diminished.

Here's another suggestion for making kids aware of what's going on behind the screen: Help your child put together a short commercial of her own. (All it takes is a digital camera and some basic editing software on the computer.) For example, have her make a 30-second spot encouraging you to give her a higher allowance or to let her stay up later at bedtime. As she works on her ad, she'll learn some important lessons about sales techniques -- which obviously you won't fall for...or will you?

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