Why Advertising Directed Toward Children Should Be Banned

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Advertising directed toward children can cause negative behavioral and psychological effects that can carry over into adult life.

Nearly everybody can remember watching television or playing on some device as a child and seeing an advertisement for a product. Whether that product was a toy, a snack, or something that was practically irrelevant to our daily lives, we still wanted it. We would go up to our parents or guardians and desperately plead for them to buy it for us, even though we all knew deep down that they would say no.

Children are exposed to dozens or even hundreds of advertisements every single day, and companies use different strategies to try to appeal to them. The most prevalent one is having a funny or relatable character, often an animal, that represents the face of the company’s product, like Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes or Ronald McDonald for McDonald’s. Other common strategies include having a catchy jingle or logo, bright colors, loud sounds, and the depiction of children who appear to be happy or having fun. Even though some of these are used when marketing toward older audiences, they are far more effective on children. Researcher Kyle Adams has identified that this is because younger children are often unable to understand the purpose of advertising and are unable to recognize that companies are trying to persuade them into buying these products.

One might wonder: “Why do companies put so much money and effort into marketing to children?” The most obvious answer is “pester power,” a phrase used to describe the ability of children to pester their parents to buy these products. Even though parents might say no most of the time, children’s ability to continuously nag about a toy or other product that they want will often work. In fact, children under the age of 12 influence $200 billion of family spending in the United States alone, as well as $25 billion from their own purchases. With that kind of influence and spending power, of course advertisers would want to target them.

So it’s obvious that advertisers do target children, but how is this a bad thing? Because children are more gullible than adults, they are likely to want more of the products that they see in advertising, many of which have negative effects on their health, safety, and well-being. The harmful effects of certain products explain why exposure to advertising “may contribute significantly to childhood and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Often, children see an abundance of advertising for these harmful products, and the use of those products often has negative effects on their health. Children, who lack the capability to make decisions as well as their elders, are easily manipulated; companies abuse this for profit, often resulting in a negative impact on both the child and the family as a whole.

Being exposed to an abundance of advertisements as a child can lead to harmful effects in later life. For example, they can lead to more aggressive behavior in children because advertisements that display violent or aggressive behavior can influence the child’s behavior in that manner. An ISU study found that violent behavior in advertisements makes children more likely to engage in aggressive and risky behavior, and can desensitize them to such violence. Additionally, in many advertisements, women are often sexualized in order to make the product more appealing. This can cause major self-esteem issues for young girls, leading them to think that they should look like the women they see on TV or in other forms of advertising. It can also teach young boys to objectify women, since they are constantly seeing women in a sexualized manner. Advertisements specifically directed toward children should be regulated for these harmful potential effects.

Of course, it’s not that easy. Children are exposed to advertising throughout their daily lives, not just on television. There is an abundance of ads in mobile games, on billboards, on posters, in magazines, and beyond. Advertisements are how a lot of companies, such as mobile game designers or magazine publishers, make their profit. It’s hard to establish a definitive line of what makes an advertisement directed toward children. In addition to specifically targeted ads, children are faced with advertisements directed toward a general audience, such as fast food ads. Even if we ban all targeted ads, children will still see these ads and develop negative behaviors because of them. Advertising is part of the foundation of our economy, and we cannot simply ban the entire thing as a whole.

Instead, it is up to the parents to teach children to be mindful of the advertisements that they see. Certain policies could be implemented to limit the number of advertisements directed toward children shown on TV or other sources, but the most crucial factor is teaching children how to respond to advertisements, and that is up to the parents and guardians. Teaching children about the purpose of advertisements and that not everything presented about products is true could help them make better decisions when they want certain products. Even in our own lives, we should learn to be mindful about the number of advertisements we see and remind ourselves that we don’t need everything that is advertised to us.

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