The documentary "Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood
" explores how marketers work their magic with children. According to Gary Ruskin, “Corporate marketers have actually studied the whole nagging phenomenon – which corporations do nagging better – and they provide advice to corporations about what kinds of tantrums work better.
How irritating! Parents have it tough enough without marketers providing kids top notch training on how to throw effective tantrums.
Studying Your Children
Marketers take understanding children’s buying behavior very seriously. For example, did you know that market researchers actually watch kids take baths and showers to figure out how they interact with things like soap? The extent of their research is a bit disconcerting!
Marketers are not interested in what’s best for your children. They’re interested in helping children want what they have to sell – pop, sugared cereals, candy, fast food, toys and other treats.
Understanding the Real Cost to Your Children
While achieving the goal of getting kids to buy more, it isn’t without a price. The “Consuming Kids” film reports significant increases in the past 10-15 years for various health problems in children including obesity, diabetes, ADHD, depression and anxiety.
In the film, social researcher Juliet Schor explains “I designed a study, which looked at children’s involvement in consumer culture. And what I found was the more media a child used, both television and other forms of media, the more likely they are to score high on a depression scale and an anxiety scale.
Since advertising works by creating a need that can be fulfilled by a product, it often highlights some inadequacy or common fear. While these underlying messages are subtle, they can certainly contribute to feelings of not having enough or not being enough.
Setting Limits with Your Kids
You are left with the difficult job of setting limits with your children. When you refuse to let your 10-year-old purchase an “M” rated video game or refuse to buy the sugared cereal with the toy, you are likely to be met with protesting and arguing.
If you respond to the content of their arguments, you have taken the bait and will be in a power struggle. Instead, try using a neutral response like one of these:
- "It’s not fair!" ~~> "Probably not."
- "Everyone else gets to." ~~> "Probably so."
- "You never let me buy anything!" ~~> "I hear you’re disappointed and angry."
- "Why can’t I buy it?" ~~> "What was my answer?"
- "You don’t trust me." ~~> "I can see how you might feel that way."
- "You’re so mean!" ~~> "Hmmm …"
If you can calmly respond to your child’s protests, you will find it easier to stick with your decision and avoid arguing.
Helping Your Kids Understand Advertising
Children are bombarded with ads every time they watch TV or use the computer. How savvy are your children about advertising tricks?
There's a fun, educational site by PBS called "Don't Buy It: Get Media Smart
". It helps kids learn about various advertising tricks. There are activities like figuring out what toy is really in the box based on the ad on the box. It's not as easy as it looks!
This site does a wonderful job helping kids learn about advertising in an entertaining way. Given the sophisticated advertising campaigns aimed at your children, they need practice teasing out the hype from reality.
You play a critical role in helping your children understand how advertisers try to influence their spending. You can also help them learn that begging isn’t the way to get what they want!