No... I don't mean kidnapping and/or the act of purchasing your kid on the adoption black market. We're talking about advertising. Advertising to your kid is big business, 15 million dollars in the U.S. alone, and it's always this time of year that I'm directly reminded of this. The end of August is when I realize that back to school is only weeks away. I always think to myself, "Before you know it, the holidays will be here..."
To break it down, (as I always do) kids are advertised to for a variety of reasons all year round including perfectly placed holidays all throughout the year. At the end of the Summer we're reminded of "Back to school" which is an 8.5 billion dollar industry focused on kids. After back to school, we have Halloween which is a 7.9 billion dollar industry which most of the marketing is to (or for) kids. After Halloween, we have Thanksgiving, which is close to a 3 billion dollar industry and the cherry on top and the mother of all industries and when the largest amount of advertising is done directly to kids, we have Christmas. Christmas is a whopping 465 billion dollar industry. And you can thank toys for that...
So, let's break it down from the beginning. What's the history of advertising to children in America? Would you be surprised to know around 1929 a group of people sat around a table and tried to figure out how to increase the consumption of American families? They decided to increase consumption they needed to encourage larger family sizes and more toys. Should we be surprised that around this same time is where we begin to see a huge boom in buying toys for Christmas? While buying presents for kids goes well beyond this and into the early 1800's it wasn't until around this period that parents bought beyond 1-3 gifts for their children.
It's important to understand why a company would want to market directly to children. Children are not only the present, they are the future. Mass consumption and consumerism NEEDS your children to thrive and there is a marketing war fighting for your child's attention. If a brand or product can get the attention of you for your child, or even better, your child, the company is almost guaranteed a lifelong buyer. Brand loyalty from a young age ensures massive wealth and longevity for corporations. This may be why children ages 2-11 see more than 25,000 advertisements a year on television alone, a figure which does not include product placement.
What can we do? The first step should be limiting marketing and ads directed to your children. For a great resource check out the CCFC, or the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood HERE. There's so many ways you can limit ads but I'll share what my husband and I do for our 3 children who are ages 2-8 years old. While limiting screen time is essential, there is a very easy way to limit ads completely and still get a little TV time. When our kids watch "TV" we only put on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to ensure our children don't see any ads. It's important to me that ads don't capture the attention of my children and influence how they feel about the world, or even what they think the world wants of them. I will admit I was heavily influenced by ads growing up. Did I know it at the time? Of course not, but I was and I wish I wasn't.
Here is a list of things you can do provided by the CCFC.
10 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO REDUCE MARKETING TO YOUR CHILDREN:
1. Carve out commercial-free time. Make creative and outdoor play the norm. Have family nights for games, projects and other fun.
2. Limit screen time. Pediatricians recommend: A. NO screen time for kids under two; B. Time limits for older kids; C. Keep bedrooms screen free
3. Reclaim your school. Work with friends and educators to limit (or eliminate) advertising in your community’s schools.
4. Call out the worst corporate offenders on social networks and blogs. Share commercial-free alternatives.
5. Learn More. Hold discussion groups, film viewings and book groups at your school, library or place of worship.
6. Speak up. Ask pediatricians and teachers to dump “branded bling” like Barbie bandages and Spider-Man stickers. Ask friends and family to skip electronics and character-based toys when giving gifts to your kids.
7. Choose commercial-free. Buy toys, food and clothing from companies that do not market directly to children. Avoid companies that do.
8. Work for local, state and federal legislation that protects children from unscrupulous marketing.
9. Celebrate Screen-Free Week. Turn off digital games, apps, television and videos for seven days. Turn on life! Visit screenfree.org.
10. Join the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Help CCFC protect the rights of children to grow up — and the freedom for parents to raise them — without being undermined by commercial interests.
For teenagers, limiting ads is a bigger struggle due to cell phones and constant connectivity. I think communication is the most important for teenagers. One way to get your teenager thinking is if you see an ad that you believe to be negative (or really any ad for that matter) you can share your opinion or better yet, ask what your teenager thinks about the ad. Ask more specifically what was the true vision of the company or product the ad was for. For instance, if a supermodel is drinking a certain beverage that commercial conveys that if you also drink that drink you may look like a supermodel. When explained that way marketing seems ridiculous, and it is. They should be skeptical of marketing as we all should. When sharing, try not to lecture because most teenagers will shut down immediately. Instead, create more of a sharing experience by encouraging your teenager to pause, think for a moment, and share what they see can be planting a huge seed for them to grow later.
Above all, limiting ads has major benefits for your children. One of the biggest benefits is that you will be encouraging them to live a life free from clutter. Ads and marketing are directly related to over-buying (go figure) and by limiting ads while also teaching your children that things can't make them happy you are setting them up for a better journey into adulthood.