9 Negative Side Effects Of Advertising On Children

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Millions of dollars are spent every year by the advertising industry on ads that target children. Young audiences are bombarded with persuading messages through media such as the Internet, television, magazines, billboards, radio, etc.

According to research, an average child is exposed to over 40,000 commercials through TV every year (1). One study even alleges that in the U.S., children are spending more time watching TV than they are in school, meaning that they are viewing more advertisements.

For decades, a part of the free market form of society has been advertised to children and it must be comprised as another part of a complex engine of the economy that works tirelessly to give everyone a better lifestyle. Advertising to children helps in generating jobs, putting money into the economy and instilling the importance of the freedom to choose at a young age. It also helps in developing a child’s ability to comprehend the value of money and teaches them that a person can achieve anything if they have the will to pay the price.

Television Advertising To Children:

As far as advertising goes, the biggest impact made on children is through television. According to a recent study, children spend about 4.5 hours every day watching TV (2). This means that they are bombarded with advertisements daily and the truth is that not even the top researchers know how they may be being influenced by these ads. How children react to them depends on a number of factors including their age, what they have experienced or know and how much opportunity they have had to ask questions and discuss what they see in the media.

Research suggests that when children watch more television, they are likely to want and demand more toys or other products. It is also suggested that they may notice ads more when they watch television on their own. According to a national survey of children’s TV-watching behavior in 2010, 72 percent reported that they had no restrictions on the amount of time they could watch TV and 52 percent reported that they had the freedom to watch any type of content they wanted (3).

Studies have found that children do not have the ability to skeptically view marketing messages or even identify advertisements as marketing messages until they are in their teens. This means that marketing messages can be perceived as truths, and in many cases, those messages can stay with them until they become adults.

New research has shown that when companies advertise to children using characters or mascots, the brand becomes a loved one and the feeling that the product is healthy and wholesome can stick right to adulthood. This is despite the fact that the product is neither healthy nor wholesome. This is known to even apply to “line extensions”, which are new versions of the product that are launched by the same brand. That advertising can have lingering effects that hamper an adult’s ability to change their opinion of brands that are not healthy because they loved them as children.

[ Read: Effects Of Television On Children ]

Advertising And Alcohol And Tobacco Consumption Among Children:

Over the years, there have been a lot of research on alcohol and cigarette ads and their effect on children. More recently, there have been more subtle marketing strategies with the placement of certain products in films and TV shows. Studies show that advertisements can push unhealthy behaviors in children and adolescents. They also show that it is becoming increasingly difficult to protect them as companies market their products by exploiting the Internet and social media.

According to experts, the odds of underage drinking are increased by advertisements. A recent study showed that exposure to alcohol advertising is linked to an increase in adolescent alcohol use and this in turn is associated with higher levels of problems such as alcohol drinking and getting intoxicated, getting into fights and missing school. Through alcohol advertising, adolescents are being sold a commodity that they should not consume in any amount.

Food Advertising And Children:

According to research, children and teens in the U.S. see an average of 12 to 14 food advertisements on television every day (4). Experts say that TV advertising plays a very important role in how foods are marketed to children. However, parents may not realize that advertising messages are also being relayed to children from other directions.

Advertisers have reward programs on their websites and they are also advertising on other websites and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, mobile apps and more. There is a huge number of ways that children are exposed to advertising. As they become increasingly tech-savvy, advertisers find better ways to get their messages across to young minds. For instance, there are “Advergames” that can be played online which are used to promote products (5).

So what is being marketed to children? According to experts, the top four products that advertisers are marketing are fast foods, sugary drinks, sugared cereals and candy (6). Studies on childhood obesity and its connection to screen time have shown that exposing a preschooler to a novel or new product for even just 30 seconds can change their preference for a brand. In another study, the effects of branding were looked at and 3 to 5 year olds were given two portions of identical foods. One portion was given in McDonald’s wrappers. When asked to point out which foods tasted better, the children said that the ones with the McDonald’s wrappers were better (7)

Fast or junk foods are one of the most commonly seen ads on television with pizzas, burgers and other delicious-looking foods being shown on screens every few minutes. Children see fit-looking adults munching on various junk foods and assume that they are healthy as they do not understand the concept of advertising. Research has found that consumption of fast foods has increased among children due to these ads. In fact, they have been so influenced by them that consumption of these unhealthy foods and snacks has almost doubled (8).

The rising popularity of fast foods and snacks has led to an increase of obesity, heart problems, diabetes and other serious health issues among children. This is a major problem, especially in developing countries where advertisers are targeting young children and teenagers. As mentioned, young, healthy-looking models are used, hiding the fact that these foods are some of the unhealthiest in the world. With so many such ads, bombarding television screens and children, it is time to start addressing the issue.

Sexual Content In Advertisements:

Many advertisements these days use beautiful young women to attract buyers. This will no doubt have a seriously negative effect on how children think. From chocolates to clothing, almost every ad seen is sexual in nature. Children then think that they need to look that way to be accepted. Or that is how they should behave to be popular. Children both young and teenagers have a negative perspective and this affects them in many different ways.

Young girls today have major body issues due to the images they see on TV, magazines, etc. They are told that they have to look a certain way to be accepted in society. If they are not slim or fair or beautiful, they are unpopular and will not make any friends. They also think that if they do not look or act sexy like the women on TV, they will not be accepted. On the other hand, so-called “pretty” girls look down on their counterparts based solely on their looks. These are some of the effects of the ads seen today.

Young girls can also become body conscious due to the ads that depict popular women as being slim and sexy. The fact is that no matter where one looks, there are always beautiful women with the perfect bodies and faces marketing products. Due to their desire to look like such women, girls can develop eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia, etc. (9) These can be extremely dangerous and even cause death in some cases.

Objectification of women is another serious issue that is brought on by advertisements. Children of all ages learn to objectify women as a result of the sexually-charged advertisements that are often seen today whether it is on television screens or magazines. Women are shown as being sex objects to sell a product, creating a negative impact on the minds of young children.

As children are not monitored as much as they should be, they are exposed to sexually-explicit images that affect how they think about women, their bodies as well as others.(10) This is why parents need to take charge of what their children watch or see. They also need to be able to talk to them about various topics like how appearance is not the most important thing in a person’s life and how they do not need to be “sexy” or “hot” to be liked and loved by others.

Negative Impact Of Advertisements On Children:

Although there are some positive effects of advertising on children, the fact is that advertising can also have many negative effects on young minds, especially if parents are not careful and do not teach their children that money is important. In many cases, the messages in the ads are misinterpreted and it results in children having the wrong beliefs about a large number of issues. Advertising influences their minds, creating a need for them to own the product they see. Flashy ads on TV, magazines, the Internet and other forms of media only generate impulse buying.

Parents who are unable to deal with increasing demands or temper tantrums have a tendency to give in to their children’s demands. This result in children getting used to the kind of lifestyle that is shown on television and other media forms. This creates the wrong impression on young minds that they will not be able to live a life that does not come with certain material things. Thus, it is certainly true that the power of advertising effects on children is one that cannot be ignored easily.

Some of the negative effects of advertising on children include:

  • Advertisements encourage children to their parents to buy the products they see in commercials, regardless of whether they need them or not and whether they are useful or not. Many throw tantrums and use different tactics to force the adults to get them what they want.
  • As mentioned earlier, children are likely to misinterpret the messages that are conveyed in commercials. Studies have shown that they also tend to focus on the negatives rather than the positive side of the messages.
  • Flashy commercials and ads on TV, the Internet, magazines, etc. create a tendency for impulse shopping (11).
  • Children tend to get attracted to high-end brands that advertise clothes, shoes and other products and disregard lesser-known ones that are not seen in ads.
  • Many advertisements seen today involve dangerous stunts which children try to imitate as they do not understand the statutory warnings that come with the ads.
  • With so many attractive commercials, marketing junk foods and unhealthy beverages, children’s health has been adversely affected. These ads encourage unhealthy eating, which in turn has led to an increase in obesity, diabetes, heart problems and other conditions in young children (12).
  • Child advertising may impact self-esteem, making them feel inferior to other children if they do not have the latest products that are seen in commercials.
  • Sexually suggestive ads are everywhere these days. This makes children objectify women and also allows them to think that looking or acting a certain way is the only way to make friends or be popular. These ads also make young girl’s body conscious and in many cases, can cause eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia, etc.
  • With more commercials targeting children, reality and fantasy do not seem too different. This can cause a lot of confusion among children, distorting their sense of reality.

[ Read: Effects Of Social Media On Children ]

Increasing Efforts:

According to experts who have been studying the effect of advertising on children, psychologists can help parents and their children get smart to the various strategies that advertisers use, particularly in schools. In fact, even as advertisers use schools as venues for marketing products, very little research has explored whether these ads in schools create a distraction for students from learning or increase the pressure on them to buy the advertised products.

Experts say that psychologists are required to help educators address and try to solve this problem. For example, they can help in creating interventions for media literacy so that children can be helped to understand the persuasive intent of advertisements. Psychologists can help in mounting public-information campaigns so that parents, teachers and legislators can have a better understanding of these issues (13).

In the past few decades, advertising has gone through tremendous changes as it has increasingly targeted younger audiences. One such change is the use of the Internet to reach children in subtle ways, including through the games they play. In many cases, users are not even aware of the effort and undertaking of advertisers and marketers (14). Highly sophisticated advertising methods are used to reach children. However, experts say that there is virtually no research on how Internet interactivity is used to reach these younger audiences.

There are an increasing number of parents who support the use of psychology to find out the effects of advertising on children and curbing them. No doubt parents are concerned about how advertisements are affecting their children. Their children make unreasonable demands due to the ads they see – new toys and unhealthy foods that they should be avoiding. These situations are extremely difficult for them to handle.

There is a material shift that is happening in society and this shift is having a major impact and an enormous influence, which are psychological in nature, on the lives of children. This requires the attention of psychologists as they may be the most help in showing the true nature of advertisements for children and their effects and society as a whole.

[ Read: Effects Of Mobile Phones On Kids ]

What Can Parents Do?

The first thing recommended by experts is reducing screen time (15). This way, parents can reduce the number of messages that young children are exposed to. Parents are also urged to keep track of what their children see when they are given time to watch television.

Also, parents should not simply refuse when their children ask for something. They should ask them why they want that particular product and where they saw or heard about it. If they answer that they saw it on television or on the Internet, they should be told that the advertisers want them to want it and that they are trying to sell the product to them. This can lead to further discussion about advertising and how they work on the masses.

The advertising effect on children can be limited. As mentioned, young children often believe what they are told by advertisements and do not have the ability to understand the difference between the TV show they are watching and advertising messages.

It is important for parents to limit the amount of commercial TV that their children watch (16). If they have a favorite TV show, a great way to ensure that they are not exposed to the commercials in between is to record it for them. They can also buy DVDs of those favorite shows, thus limiting their TV screen time and exposure to advertisements.

For children who are at school-age, it is important for parents to talk to them about the ads. Children should be encouraged to think about what all these advertisements are trying to say. The focus should be put on ads that children see most often, whether it is when they watch television or ads in brochures and magazines. There are two questions that parents should ask their children and that can get them thinking:

What is being advertised? Parents should help their children identify the product that is being advertised and most importantly, the product information (17). For example – what is the product? What is its purpose?

What are the strategies advertisers are using to sell the product? Parents should help their children figure out how the advertisement is making the product more attractive (18). This helps in making the point that not everything that is seen on TV can be believed, especially when it comes to ads. It will help children develop a questioning attitude towards the claims that advertisers make.

As mentioned earlier, with people becoming more open sexually, more and more advertisements are using sexually suggestive strategies to attract buyers. Children see these images on their TV screens, computers and magazines and it will undoubtedly have an effect on their young minds. It is important for parents to not only monitor their children’s screen time, but talk to them about what they see as well. Children do not know the difference between an ad on TV and reality, so it is crucial that they understand that what they see on TV is not really how people act (19). They have a tendency to mimic what they see and that is why parents need to be careful of what they are exposed to.

The goal should be to help children figure out the difference between the product information and the strategies used by advertisers to sell the product. To make sure that children process ads critically, they need to learn how to discriminate between content that is commercial and non-commercial and identify the persuasive intent of the advertisement.

With so many advertisements popping up on TV and computer screens, magazines, billboards, etc., it is important to ensure that the images that children are being exposed to are monitored (20). Also, it should be reiterated that screen time should be kept to a minimum at all costs. There are many things that parents can do to ensure that the various marketing strategies used by advertisers do not have a negative effect on their children. The best thing that they can do is encourage children to go out and play, read, play indoor and outdoor games and socialize (21). Once they realize that they do not have to be glued to the TV to have a good time, they will spend less screen time and be less exposed to ads.

[ Read: How To Get Your Child Into Modeling ]

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