Should you let your children watch television channels that have “junk” advertising?

Many parents say, “no,” but I say, “yes.”

Yes, I know that children can’t tell the difference between advertising and program content. And yes I know that children believe everything they see on television. And yes I know that food manufacturers are after our children.

  • A recent content analysis of the top 40 food and beverage brand websites found that 63% of the websites contain gaming in which a product is featured.
  • More than half used cartoon characters or had websites specifically designed for children.

The answer isn’t to avoid these channels (unless you don’t like the programming content). The answer is to educate your children. Even the young ones.

Tell your children that food manufacturers often lie to children.

Then, tell your kids that if they hear anything about a particular food they should come check with you to see if it is true.

Say these things often. It filters what your children absorb and shapes what they believe.

Be proactive: Children believe their parents.

Does this mean I’m letting food manufacturers off the hook?

Not at all. They’re after our kids and that is unacceptable.

Every day on average in the United States, children and teenagers see 12 to 14 food ads on television. And they’re not advertising broccoli. (Although there is that one ad for Cuties mandarins, which I love.)

Read this great New York Times piece How Advertising Targets Our Children. (Thanks Casey for sending me the link.)

Ads most likely to be marketed towards kids are fast foods, sugared cereals, sugary drinks and candy.

To me this makes the problem easier for parents to confront. After all, there’s no ambiguity here: these foods are trash and everyone knows it. It’s time your kids do too. Read A Spoonful of Sugar?

It’s harder to teach children that chicken nuggets are trash, but they are. Read Are Chicken Nuggets Really Chicken? and The 10 Most “Dangerous” Foods.

Having said this, I recognize that emphasizing the need for kids to be educated consumers plays into the hands of food manufacturer.

“We don’t have to stop advertising; you have to know what you’re buying.” So let’s work on a shared approach. Work to stop this kind of advertising.

But I hate the way this is discussed, as if parents are (and should be) passive. Educating kids is a caring and reasonable response to a terrible problem.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Henry, H. K. M. and D. L. G. Borzekowski. 2011. “The Nag Factor: a Mixed-Methodology Study in the Us of Young Children’s Requests for Advertised Products.” Journal of Children and Media 5(3): 298-317.