Lessening Advertising’s Impact On Kids Spending Money

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

(listen to article read by the author)

girl pleading with mom to buy it

Are your kids begging you to buy things? If so, the marketers are being effective in teaching your children one of the best ways to get you to break down and buy it - beg! Advertisers teach kids to beg because they've proven begging works.

You also may be unintentionally fueling more begging by giving in to it. One mom realized she contributed to her daughter feeling entitled. She didn’t want to deprive her daughter so ended up buying her what she wanted. Soon her daughter was whining for things whenever they went shopping. Continually indulging her daughter resulted in her undesirable behavior.

Influencing Your Spending

Did you know that kids under age 12 influence the spending of 700 billion dollars per year? From the brand of macaroni and cheese to buy to where to go on vacation, children have a big say. No wonder businesses are focused on turning children into voracious consumers.

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.

Understanding the Real Cost to Kids

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.

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.

Responding to the content of their arguments is likely to lead to a power struggle. For example, pretend your child says you’re not being fair and you explain why in fact this is fair. Your child counters pointing out flaws in your explanation. You then argue back and forth.

You want to be able to set limit without entering a power struggle. When your child protests, try using a neutral response like one of these:

Child: "It's not fair!"
Parent: "Probably not."

Child: "Everyone else gets to."
Parent: "Probably so."

Child: "You never let me buy anything!"
Parent: "I hear you're disappointed."

Child: "Why can't I buy it?"
Parent: "What was my answer?"

Child: "You don't trust me."
Parent: "I can see how you might feel that way."

Child: "You're so mean!"
Parent: " Hmmm ..."

If you can calmly respond to your child's objections, 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 their devices. How savvy are your children about advertising tricks? Advertisers specialize in knowing how to psychologically manipulate kids into wanting to buy what they are selling.

You can help your kids think about what’s behind an ad by asking questions. Questions like these promote critical thinking about how ads are trying to convince someone to buy:

  • Who created this ad?
  • How does the ad make you feel?
  • What about the ad is most attractive to you?
  • What do they want you to buy?
  • How much do you think this item costs?
  • How does this celebrity endorsement effect your feelings about the product?
Another idea for analyzing advertising is to mute the sound during the ads. Try to figure out what they are selling without hearing the words. This can be super challenging!

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!

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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