Every holiday from New Year’s to Christmas and everything else in between provides opportunities for families and businesses to celebrate. It offers a time for families to gather and do something special and it gives business a chance to increase their revenues. As a result, the holidays and other occasions, such as back to school, are always accompanied by ample media messages in print and on the screen. We have come to know these as commercials and advertisements, and every holiday comes with new enticements to buy, buy, buy!
Commercials and advertisements have been around since the 1950’s and every generation has been exposed to the shopping hype during the holiday season. Tis’ the season for a constant barrage of media messages from various sources. Everyone that watches receives overt or subliminal messages from businesses that desperately want us to buy their wares – from a company trying to convince you that your child needs a particular item in order to reach his or her potential, to playing upon a parent’s fear that their child’s safety is at stake and a cell phone is what is needed to bring peace of mind.
As difficult as these messages may be for us adults to sort out and resolve, we are able to filter out what these cooperate conglomerates are attempting to do. We are able to think for ourselves and we have our values to guide us. Most of us are confident about our parenting identity and what we want for our children.
So where does that leave our children? Unfortunately, young children are very easily influenced by media messages, especially television commercials. Young children will use them to determine what is cool and what they think they need. The average child sees more than 40,000 commercials each year. Commercials are quick, fast-paced and entertaining. They are easy to remember with catchy phrases that try to convince your child they can’t live without a certain product.
How many of you have experienced a constant request for certain toys, products, or clothing that your children have seen advertised on TV or on the internet? Once a commercial has enticed your child, the nag factor sets in. We have to expect that when kids are bombarded by ads telling them to buy certain products in order to be popular – that nagging will soon follow.
According to a national survey of youth commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream,
??? the average American child aged 12-17 will ask their parents for products they’ve seen advertised on TV an average of nine times until their parents finally give in.
??? for parents of so-called “tweens”, 12-13 year olds, these children admit to asking their parents more than fifty times for products they’ve seen advertised.
Ask yourself if this is what you want to deal with when your child is that age?
We may not be able to control the images and enticements our children are bombarded with out there in the community at large but we certainly can maintain some control over which messages creep into our homes. How does a parent in today’s media generated culture keep excessive commercialism from negatively impacting their child and the true spirit of the holidays? Here are some tips to help you get started.
Help Your Child Think Critically about TV
Whenever possible, talk to your child about what they see on television. If your child is very young she may not be able to tell the difference between a show, a commercial, a cartoon or real life and that characters on TV are make-believe and not real. For older children you can always turn a commercial or an advertisement into a learning experience by helping your child find the appropriate message. Always remember, if you do not want your child exposed to certain messages, you can either turn off the TV or explain why you object.
Help your child resist commercials
Do not expect your child to be able to resist ads for toys, candy, snacks, cereal, drinks or new programs without your help. When your child asks for products advertised on TV, explain that the purpose of commercials is to make people want things they may not need. Limit the number of commercials your child sees by watching public television stations (PBS) or other educational programing. You also can record programs and leave out the commercials or buy or rent children’s videos or DVDs.
Make television viewing a team sport.
If your schedule prevents you from watching TV together as a family, try recording the programs so that you can watch them with your child at a later time. Watching TV with your children whenever you can allows you to mute the television during commercial breaks. This is a great time to discuss the life learning opportunities that can be derived from the television show you are viewing. Or, you can choose to watch the commercials together and help your children understand advertisers’ marketing techniques.
Explore helpful resources.
Fortunately there is much that parents can do to protect their kids from the pressure to buy more and get more. The Center for a New American Dream has a brochure called Tips for Parenting in a Commercial Culture , which can be downloaded for free.
Find out what the experts are saying. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement on commercialism and how constant exposure to advertising effects children – Children, Adolescents, and Advertising . These policy statements are always being revised and kept up to date so make sure you check in and see what they have to say.
When any child watches television you can be sure that he is receiving numerous media messages, which promote the notion that consumption is the pathway to happiness, acceptance, popularity and success. These messages are also creeping into the internet and the cell phones that now seem to be a normal part of life for most children. It is important to understand that any media, which advances a commercial culture may impact your holidays, your child and your wallet more than you realize BUT don’t ever forget that you are in control.
If you say ‘no’ to television because of commercials, say ‘yes’ to something else – a board game, making a pie, or going on a bike ride together. Help your child find other things to do with his time, such as playing, reading, arts and crafts, exploring his natural environment, learning a hobby, a sport, an instrument or doing a community service. In doing so you can take pleasure in knowing that you are advancing a culture of creative thinkers and caring people.