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Why You Should Watch Commercials With Your Children

It may sound counterintuitive, but by being an active, critical viewer of commercials, you can teach your kids about the power of advertising so they become smarter consumers. From Neale S. Godfrey, author of Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children

Much of our consumer behavior, and therefore our buying habits, is influenced or even set by what we read, hear, and watch in the media. Advertisements and commercials are among the strongest seducers to buy, buy, buy.

While print and radio ads can be strong influences on youngsters, I will focus here on television commercials because TV makes a big impression on a young mind.

Pollsters say that children in the United States watch an average of over two and a half hours of TV a day, and within a thirty minute program, there can be as much as thirteen minutes’ worth of commercials! Much of that advertising is targeted specifically at kids because they have money of their own to spend and because they strongly influence their parents’ buying habits.

Commercials try to sell children everything from cereal to toys to tennis shoes, and there is a growing sentiment among both parents and educators against advertisers and their methods of sending conscious and subconscious buying messages to kids. Some people even feel that commercials on children’s programming should be banned.

My solution is a little different. I maintain that we need to teach our children about advertising, what a commercial is and what it is trying to accomplish. You can’t be coerced into doing something you don’t want to do if you know and understand the process.

Here is another game that I’ve created to focus on learning how commercials work and how they influence us:

THE TV COMMERCIAL GAME
GOAL

To teach your child how to become a savvy consumer.

TOOLS
A children’s show on television; a grocery store.

RULES
Watch a TV program with your child and pay special attention to the commercials. Explain the difference between the program and the commercial.

Ask the youngster if he or she remembers the many products there are in a grocery store. Then explain that because there are so many choices, the people who make a particular soda or cereal want to convince you through their commercial to buy their product.

Have your child pick a new product to taste-test, like a soda or a cereal. Then go to the supermarket and let your child find that product. (If it is a kid’s cereal, he or she will probably find it within his reach. Explain that manufacturers put the cereal there so that kids can see it.)

Buy a similar brand, and then at home conduct a taste test with other family members. Blindfold them and let them pick their favorite, the best-tasting corn flakes or cola.

HOW TO WIN
If the product your child picked from the TV commercial was the choice of the family, then he wins. Remind him or her of the points the advertiser was stressing. Was it crisper? Did it have more raisins?

MISSION
Make your child aware of commercials so that the youngster can’t be unduly influenced, and so that he or she will learn how to be a better consumer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Neale S. Godfrey, author of Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children (Copyright © 1994 by Children’s Financial Network Inc.), writes a weekly Associated Press column and is the author of fourteen books that address money in the context of life skills and values. She has made numerous appearances on such television shows as The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, and Today, and she is the founder of Children’s Financial Network, Inc.

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