What Do We Do When the Ads Start Targeting Our Kids?

What Do We Do When the Ads Start Targeting Our Kids?

My baby cousin was sitting on the couch drinking apple juice looking longingly at my Red Bull. I was beginning to study for college finals and had given into the caffeine pick-me-up temptation.

“Can I have a some?” she asked earnestly.

“Now why do you want my drink when you have your own juice?” I inquired.

“Because Red Bull gives you flying powers,” she answered.

I stared back in confusion for a moment, and then realized she was referring to the Red Bull slogan “Red Bull gives you wings.” My adorable 6 year old cousin truly believed that by drinking this sugary crack in a can, she would literally be able to fly. No doubt she saw one of the fun, animated commercials claiming this.

I was surprised to realize that advertisements I was so quick to dismiss, made such a profound impact on her.

My cousin continued to pester me for a sip and for the first time I felt the indirect purchasing power of a child. I could see the heavy influence that these ads had on her and doubted my ability as a future parent to refuse the begging and whining. It was one thing to keep strong doses of caffeine out of her reach, but what about products that are seemingly harmless, like Happy Meals and Reese's Pieces? I could directly see how these tricky campaigns play into the rising child obesity numbers.

I wondered how the pull of engaging media would affect her growing up. Would her positive perception of Red Bull continue into her teenage years? What about all the beer commercials she was exposed to during football games? Not only that, but unlike my childhood of mainly commercial advertisements, she was bombarded with “buy me” media from every app and website she played on and explored.

It’s everywhere.

We can't keep our children in a bubble, that’s not feasible in this age of information. But I was surprised to see how protective I got seeing ads targeting younger kids who cannot differentiate bias and unbiased material. Small children don’t have our ability to interpret and decode, and believe with all their hearts that “Trix are for kids.” How can we, as loving grown-ups in these kids’ lives, sensor these messages as best as possible until a child is mature enough to filter through the noise and come to their own conclusion?

There are societies who have recognized this as a problem and started taking steps to change the narrative. In Several countries like the UK, Greece, Denmark, and Belgium, there are limitations to advertising to kids. In Sweden, Quebec, and Norway they have outright banned child advertisements for children under 12. But in a country where we value freedom of information so highly, it falls on the adults in these children’s lives to help them sort through the information in front of them.

Like much of digital parenting these days, we have to be the guides, the mentors, to the tiny people looking up to us. We have to have those conversations with the kids in our lives so they'll understand.

"Those commercials may seem fun Bobby, but really they just want you to choose their drink when you go to the grocery store. And they will do whatever it takes to get you to pick them because they want to make money."

We can help our children’s development and future purchasing habits by educating them on the motivations of companies, the purpose of advertisements, and the fact that we have to learn to see through ads to the real message behind them.

Have your little ones been influenced by ads in your home? What do you do to try and tune out some of that noise?

*This post was written by Jordan Green for the Torch community of parents.