Kids are bombarded with advertisements from every possible source: billboards, posters, clothes sporting characters or brand-name labels, TV commercials, websites and radio blurbs. Often, even though kids don’t have their own income yet, this advertising is aimed directly at them.
Many parents have no idea that their 3-year-old recognizes McDonald’s golden arches and Ronald McDonald. Moms and dads are also shocked when their 12-year-old insists on having Abercrombie Jeans and Old Navy shirts — the imitation simply will not do. Why? Because the marketing world has sold kids on the message: “Our product is for you. This is what you need. Nothing else will satisfy.”
How can parents better understand and guard against such outside influences? This series is a good place to start. It offers information you should know and tips to help you temper advertising's influence. For example:
As children grow into their teen years, tastes change and advertising affects them differently. Most would say advertising intensifies during the teen years. Kids who used to want toys and kids’ meals will now desire Abercrombie sweaters, Gap skirts and Nike sneakers. They might also demand their own cell phones, computers, MP3 players and a hefty weekly allowance. Soon they’ll also “need” a Honda, Toyota or even a Beamer.
Your teen will most likely be attracted to advertising that is geared more for college-aged individuals. And teens often want to buy products linked with celebrities and sports stars, not fictional characters. Harry Potter, make way for Lebron James!
Quizzes, contests and online games will intrigue them even more. Because teens are beginning to feel even more independence, they’ll purchase products they’ve never heard of before. Whatever the “in” crowd has, they’ll want it, but not exactly the same thing. Each teen has to preserve his individuality. Expect your teen’s taste in movies and video games to grow more violent and sexual. Even restaurant preference could turn to those with the most noise and people.
Hopefully, however, you will have already instilled the understanding that they cannot have everything. Even if they could, they still would not be satisfied. As a parent, it’s your job to decide which material possessions, and particularly which expensive brand names, are acceptable for your child.
Teens need to earn and spend their own money — and learn to prioritize their values. That way wise spending and saving will continue for many years to come.
Just when I thought America had cornered the market on frivolous lawsuits, I heard of a woman in Dublin, Ireland, who took a restaurant to court for making her gain weight. No joke. In her suit, Mary Dillard said an eatery named Lester’s “ran attractive advertisements and food deals” that “caused her to eat more than what was necessary for an adult woman.” She added that the smell of food from the restaurant would invade her home and cause “undue hunger.”
There are certain givens in life. Dogs bark. Babies cry. The Cubs lose. And companies will promote their products in the most provocative ways possible. Advertising is part of the cultural landscape. Billboards. Magazine and newspaper ads. Radio and TV commercials. We’re assaulted by a barrage of sales pitches every day to the point that we can’t open e-mail without someone trying to sell us something.
Therefore, it’s our job to sort through those urgent pleas, separating useful information from manipulation and empty promises. As Mary Dillard discovered, even legitimate appeals to our basic needs, such as hunger, require discernment and self-control. It’s also imperative that we teach that skill to adolescents — fledgling consumers eager to flex newfound muscle in the marketplace.
From fashion designers to makers of the latest high-tech gadgets, advertisers desperately want a piece of the youth market. Teens have no mortgages. No life insurance premiums. No grocery, utility or medical bills. That amounts to billions of dollars in discretionary income from allowances and part-time jobs. But are your young people savvy enough to spend wisely? Here are questions you can ask teens as you dissect advertising:
Of course, advertising isn’t all underhanded, and it’s not inherently evil. It serves many purposes. For one thing, it would cost about $10 for a fifty-cent daily newspaper if not for ad revenue offsetting publishing expenses. Or think of how many Web sites we browse at no personal cost beyond the hassle of dealing with a few pop-up ads. Also, businesses use commercials to compete for customers, and competition keeps prices down.
I could go on. The point is that cursing advertising or blaming it for leading us into temptation is pointless. Rather, we must arm ourselves and our teens with the tools to deconstruct ads and expose those with questionable agendas. Manipulative advertisers prey on people’s insecurities. They encourage comparison (“Be like — or better than — the guy next door”), which destroys contentment. But Christians can rest confidently in their relationship with God. By turning youngsters to scriptures such as Romans 8:15-17, Galatians 3:29-4:7, Ephesians 2:6-7 and 1 Peter 2:5, we can help them realize that nothing the world promises can compare with the riches we already have as children of the King.
Poet and humorist Ogden Nash wrote, “I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.” Let’s give our teens the perspective to see beyond commercial messages that get in the way of what’s really important.