We have never been big television watchers at our house so movie channels, Tivo and DVR have never been a part of our TV technology.
This meant that until recently, PBS was our children’s television station of choice – mostly out of a lack of choices.
My children have grown up watching the full PBS lineup of classics like Sesame Street and Electric Company and the not-so-classic Caioulle – a program I cannot stand, but my 3-year-old seems to love.
Now that my 6-year-old has outgrown much of PBS’ programming, he opts for the Cartoon Network instead. While shows like Scooby Doo and Looney Tunes are on, there are also other strange cartoons that I don’t recognize and frankly, don’t get.
But the bigger problem is the advertising.
Virtually every day, one or both of my children run into the kitchen to tell me about a toy, cereal or place they want or want to go. On one occasion, my oldest made a special trip to ask if my back still hurts. When I told him that yes, sometimes it does still hurt, he went on to encourage the purchase of the Sleep Number Bed.
I was torn between being flattered that he was sympathetic to my ailments and disgusted that advertisers were peddling their wares to kids on daytime TV. Really, Sleep Number Beds? Six-year-old boys are now your demographic?
So I wasn’t surprised when I read an article on NYTimes.com about a study from the journal Pediatrics. “Jerry L. Grenard, a health researcher at Claremont Graduate University, and his colleagues followed almost 4,000 students from 7th through 10th grades, assessing their exposure to alcohol advertising on television and asking about their alcohol use.”
This study and a larger body of literature reports that exposure to alcohol-related advertising does have an impact on alcohol use among adolescents, which often leads to drinking problems, missing school, and getting into fights, to name a few.
Researchers of childhood obesity have also done studies. According to these studies, the top four products with television advertising aimed at children are fast food, sugared cereals, sugary drinks, and candy.
Researchers go on to say that television is not the only way that products are being marketed to our older children. Many companies, like Coca Cola, have millions of “likes” on Facebook. If you “like” Coca Cola, you are bombarded with a daily post that can be “shared” with friends.
Jennifer Harris, the director of marketing initiatives at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, states “That whole tapping into the peer relationship that kids of that age have is, we think, very deceptive,” She also goes on to say, “They don’t necessarily recognize that it’s advertising and also very manipulative.”
So what can we do?
The obvious answer is to limit screen time. But researchers also suggest that instead of just saying “no” when your children ask you for something they’ve seen on television, parents should ask, “Why?”
Use these interactions as teachable moments. Explain that advertisers want viewers to want their product and want to sell them their product. Aim to teach children to be critical viewers and educated consumers.
And here I was just irritated by the constant, “I wants” going on in my house. Despite knowing how influential advertising can be on consumers, it never occurred to me that my young children were to be the “victims” at such an early age.
So much for the PBS glory days when we were inundated with advertisements for organic foods and the power of planned giving to the endowment of National Public Television.
Amy Grace is married with two children. You can read her every Friday on momaha.
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