Social media and online advertisements can have a major impact on a child’s self-image. And younger children might not even be able to tell the difference between an advertisement from their favorite TV show or app. Teaching kids about advertising is imperative for parents.
So, we asked 5 experts to share advice on how parents can talk to their children about online advertising and help them develop a healthy relationship with media. Below are tips parents can use for younger children as well as teens who already use social media regularly.
1. Help your children discern fact from fiction
Megan Hanna, FitSmallBusiness.com
A skill every child should learn from a young age is how to discern fact from fiction, truth from falsehood, reality from fantasy. In a lot of ways, technology has blurred the lines for many of these things. From Instagram filters to ‘reality’ television to CGI, it can be hard — even for adults — to discern fact from fiction. However, it’s easier if we learn how to keep our ‘truth filters’ constantly engaged, and teach our kids to do the same.
What’s difficult about the world of technology we’re living in today is things are not always as they seem, making it hard sometimes to separate fact from fiction. When you put on your truth filter, you’re looking at the world through a critical lens. In essence, you’re putting yourself in a state of constant critical thinking. Learning how to think critically, and integrating it in our day-to-day lives, is something even a young child can learn.
Teaching our kids how to flex their critical thinking muscles starts with showing them how we flex ours. One way we can do this is by asking questions in front of our children about the advertisements we’re seeing online, hearing on the radio, or watching on television. We might say something like: ‘I wonder where they got that info?’ or ‘Hmm, that’s different than what I’ve heard in the past — we should do some research on this.’ For older kids, we can also ask them what they think about what they’re seeing, hearing, or reading. In so doing, we’ll show them that their thoughts matter.
If our kids want to buy something they’ve learned about from an online ad, we can also help them think through the buying process. This includes talking through the difference between wants vs. needs, asking them how they would use the thing they want to buy, and considering how it fits within their budgets. Again, they’ll learn this naturally if they see parents doing the same.
One fun way to integrate this into our day-to-day lives is by turning it into a family dinner game. Each family member chooses an advertisement or headline to research and share with the family. After everyone has voted on whether it’s truth or fiction, the person who brought the idea shares what they found from their research. It’s always a lot of fun when bizarre or outlandish headlines turn out to be true, and vice versa!
In summary, the best way to help our kids develop a healthy relationship with online advertisements and media, is to teach them how to detect fact from fiction and reality from fantasy. We can do this by asking critical questions about what we’re seeing, hearing, and reading in front of our kids, and encouraging them to do the same.
2. Talk to your kids about influencers
Josh Ochs, Smart Social
An often overlooked part of advertising — and one your kids are likely to encounter daily — is social media influencers. An influencer is someone who has the ability to influence others to purchase products or services by promoting or recommending the items on social media. Many accounts on Instagram and other social platforms are dedicated entirely to earning income from their posts. So it’s important for kids to learn about this advertising tactic because it’s less obvious than a TV commercial or banner ad.
Consider finding some influencers and reviewing their posts with your kids. Ask them to point out anything that may be a subtle advertisement. Teach your kids to look for hashtags that indicate the post is sponsored (#spon, #sponsored, #ad) but remind them that influencers don’t always disclose their advertisements.
3. Start by teaching kids the concept of advertising, then go online
Jim Wasserman, Author and Former Educator
First, ask elementary kids to draw shopping. No other prompts. Afterwards, have a detailed discussion where they first present and explain, and then parents ask questions. Many insights can be gained from this as to children’s attitudes towards advertising.
Next, explain the difference between information and persuasion (it’s easier to ask how people are nudged to do a certain thing, like when your parents say ‘Have you done your homework?’ or ‘Your room is a mess!’ Ask them why people do it, and then if people do it when they try to sell things. One way to show this is to ask a child’s favorite color, and then look for it in ads, even asking what does green make them think of? Blue? Red? Look for patterns with your child (red is not in health ads, green implies environments). This gets kids familiar with ad nudging in general.
Now kids can look at ads online and see that they do the same thing. Bright colors, music, etc. that they saw in print ads. Have kids think of something they would want someone to do and have them draw an ad. Ask your kids where they would place their ads? They’ll probably say don’t give it to them, but leave it where the person you want to convince will be (favorite chair) BOOM, the kid now understands online market placement.
Kids love to thwart the “bad guys” which give parents the opportunity to turn this exercise into a game. Have your child point out any marketing “traps” they see and talk through how they can avoid falling into them. Some ads are trickier than others, keep an eye out for contests and “freemiums” in games.
4. Help your child go from being a passive consumer to an active consumer
Jennifer Lipsitt-McLean, Mom Bible
Younger children often find commercials more entertaining than the shows they are watching and have a difficult time distinguishing exactly what advertising is. Therefore, they have a natural tendency to become passive consumers, hence why it’s important to make children aware of advertising so that they can become active consumers.
One of the fundamental tasks, to begin with, is to help kids recognize advertising in all its forms. Therefore it’s helpful to play “spot the ad” and make them aware of banners, placements, product placement and more subtle forms such as branding.
It’s also important to make children aware of the purpose and mechanisms of advertisements at an early age. For instance, make them aware of the fundamental purpose of advertising – to become a consumer, and explain to them what strategies advertisers use to encourage them to buy their products. Demonstrate how they use exaggerated claims; create feelings of urgency and the idea of scarcity, as well as using public figures and cartoon characters to make them seem more appealing.
Make children aware of how marketers target their demographic by building brand loyalty and how they often target insecurities of pre-teens with products that promote attractiveness or “being cool”.
With this awareness, they will develop the ability to critically evaluate the advertising they come into contact with and instead of simply being a passive consumer, a well-informed and active one.
5. Make it a game
Nate Masterson, Maple Holistics
You can play games with your children to teach them all about how advertising is designed to lure them in. If they are too young to understand, you can also limit the advertisements they see by using a DVR or an online streaming service. If you want to make it a game for your child, sit with them as they watch a show. For every product or logo that either of you notices, you get a point. This will force them to look for what they may not consciously notice. You can discuss how each of the products that were shown was just put there to make them want to buy the product. You can ask them how they felt before and after watching an ad to point out how the ad makes them want something they weren’t even thinking about.
You can have them rate commercials by how effective they were. If the commercial made them really want a burger, they would give it a 10, but if it had no effect on them, they would give it a 1. If you really want to show them how powerful advertising can be, go find a toy of theirs that they have lost interest in. Sell it to them. Talk about what makes it stand out from all of their other toys. When you’re done ask them if you can give it away. They will quickly realize how their opinion and views can be so easily changed. It may even upset them to be so easily fooled. This won’t work on your teenager but it should work on a seven or eight-year-old. Lastly, tell them what they see is not always what they get. Food on TV may not even be real food. Glue may be used in place of milk and Vaseline is usually used to make burgers look juicier. When it comes to advertising, what you see is never what you get.
The best way to help kids develop a healthy relationship with online advertisements and media, is to help them discern fact from fiction, turn it into a game, and teach them about social media influencers. It’s important to have an open dialog and review ads together as a family.
What are your best tips for helping students foster a healthy relationship with online advertising? Let us know in the comments below!