Ask your kids to tell you what they think of each ad, and you'll learn a surprising amount about how their minds work.
There's a lot you can learn about your kids during Sunday's big game, and most of it has nothing to do with football. Although the game will get high Nielsen ratings, and the announcers will flash the "quarterback rating" throughout the game, I suggest you teach your kids a new kind of rating – commercials rating. If you get the hang of The Commercial Rating Game, it can change the way you and your kids watch TV forever.
Super Bowl commercials are, of course, legendary for their creativity and cost. More advertising ingenuity goes into that day's commercials than all the other days of the year combined, and the per-second cost of airing those ads is astronomical. So let's not waste all of that effort and expense. This Sunday, let's honor the commercials for the art form they are, and change the way we watch the Super Bowl. Plan to go to the refrigerator for snacks and take bathroom breaks only during the actual game itself. No one leaves the TV during the commercials. Before the game, create a chart, and after each commercial, have each of the kids do a quick (quick because the next commercial starts immediately) rating on a 1-to-10 scale. Then, when the commercial break is over and the game starts again, ask each rater to explain why they gave the rating they did. If you're recording the game, make a note on the chart as to when each commercial appeared so you can replay as desired after the game.
There is no right or wrong rating. The idea is to teach your kids to give, and let you get, honest feedback on their tastes and preferences. Don't give your own ratings, because if your score is closer to one of your kids' score than to another's, it will look like you're taking sides or that there is a "right" answer. Scoring the commercials teaches your kids to formulate and express their opinions without embarrassment or fear of "being wrong." Rotate the order of asking your kids for their rating—but start with the youngest more often so she doesn't always pick the same score as her older sibs. Your kids' scoring is your chance to see what and how they think. You'll be surprised, I guarantee it, and the explanations they give for their ratings will surprise you even more. If this year is at all like previous years, most of the commercials will be "PG rated" and safe for kids to watch; the occasional adult innuendo will usually be missed by your kids. (If you're concerned about adult content in the ads, record the entire game and screen the commercials afterwards before starting The Commercial Rating Game – which can then be played later that night or any time after the end of football season). Predictably, the ads will feature cute dogs and handsome horses and tempting snacks and funny slapstick. But if your kids are at all like ours, it may be the color of the dress the spokesperson wore, the music behind the visuals, or how much the kid in the commercial looked like your neighbor that bumps the rating up. A wonderful window into your kids' minds.
After the football day ends, you can extend the ratings game to everything else you watch together on TV. The commercials during regular programming will never live up to those during the Super Bowl, so rate the programs themselves instead. You'll be amazed at how discerning your kids can be, and how their ratings can help you better select (and better limit) the TV they watch. I believe that one of the reasons talent competition shows like "Dancing with the Stars," "American Idol," and "The Voice" have become such popular family entertainment is because each family member can pick his or her own favorite performers and root for them – your kids' rooting indirectly expresses their rating, and their opinions about each contestant.
If you have school age kids, here's one more idea for making the most of the Super Bowl commercials: Many schools are using a great website, Admongo, for teaching kids to be better consumers and critical thinkers about commercial advertising. After the game, or next week when, sadly, there are no more games, explore Admongo and see how much your kids have already learned from playing The Commercial Rating Game during Super Bowl 50.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com.