One of the more pervasive aspects of modern life is the presence of advertising. Some advertisements, like the ones in this publication, are useful and informative. Others, like the ones that casually weave their way into our lives via television, internet, and radio, are often loud and intrusive. It is no secret that high-level advertising agencies develop ways to influence our children. Our job as parents is to educate our children, to teach them to defend themselves against the Madison Avenue onslaught.
The ages between four and seven are crucial for teaching this defense. My tactic has been to utilize familiar, trusted sources to perform “commercials” for them. I insidiously use their own stuffed animals to teach them the ploys of advertising.
For example, my daughter has a big, soft, pink stuffed bunny named Floppy, who undoubtedly earned this moniker due to the exaggerated nature of her ears. Floppy likes to advertise for the National Carrot Council, mostly because of her general enthusiasm for carrots. Kids are bombarded with commercials for every salty, sugary snack known to mankind, the least I can do is counteract that with an alternative (and hilariously delivered) message.
Oh, but Floppy can be devious in her overwhelming zeal to sell carrots, sometimes she makes exaggerated claims, “Not only are carrots totally super-delicious, but they will also brush your teeth and clean your room for you!” Of course, my daughter sees right through this.
Evie (matter-of-factly): “Carrots don’t do that.”
Me: “That’s right, sometimes when people, or in this case, rabbits, make commercials, they say things that cannot be proven.”
I also attempt to inoculate her against celebrity endorsements. Pinky Pie, who, according to my daughter, adores pie with the same veracity that Floppy loves carrots, has said some pretty outrageous things.
Me (as Pinkie Pie): “Nine out of ten doctors recommend you eat three servings of pie each day!”
Evie: “She’s lying, Dad. She shouldn’t do that.”
Me (back to my normal voice): “No. She shouldn’t. Watch out for what you hear, if something sounds crazy, it probably is. Even if it is endorsed by a pink pony.”
Whether we embrace it or not, we live in a consumer society. Forces far beyond our control will attempt to sway our children to buy things they really don’t need, or eat something they probably should avoid. One of the many jobs we have as parents is to help our children to become intelligent and informed consumers. We have far more influence over our children than mere television commercials. Use that influence, because the advertisers are certainly trying to use theirs.
Jeremy Rosenberg gave up the corporate rat race years ago to become a freelance writer and graduate student, as well as a stay-at-home Dad to his two children, Jack, 11, and Evie, 6. He also enjoys playing the guitar, letting his cats fall asleep on his lap, and trying to be a decent human being.