Children and Advertising

Here are some excerpts from some interesting articles that I came across with regard to children and advertising. Some of these revelations are frankly quite disturbing.

It is estimated that the average child in India watches 3 to 4 hours of television every day. Most of this viewing is done without supervision by an adult. During this time, children watch dozens of advertisements.

While we can complain about advertisements and their inappropriateness for children, it is a reality today. Manufacturers know very well that while children do not make a purchasing decision, they have enormous influence on their parents’ decisions. Marketers also know that children are impressionable.

In 2007, a study reported that children, who were 3 to 5 years, when presented with the same food in McDonald’s packaging and in unmarked packaging, thought the former was tastier. One of foods presented to them in the study was carrots which McDonald’s does not even sell. Even the carrots in McDonald’s packaging were thought to be tastier than regular carrots!!!

Here’s another article that is worth a second look. “Little Women”, published in the Times of India (Oct 2008) focuses on how the “Hannah Montana phenomenon is sweeping pre-teen India”. Interestingly, I had recently had this conversation with a friend a few days earlier, about how childhood is growing shorter and shorter these days. Though we cribbed and fumed (of course, the discussion was sparked off by the “Mary Kate and Ashley” and “Hannah Montanna” series on the Crossword shelves), I was not prepared for this:

The rise of sexy little girls is a disturbing trend. It seems a Hannah Montana phenomenon is sweeping underage India. The sexualisation of pre-teen girls is worryingly blurring the fine line between childhood and adulthood. Almost every little girl wants to prove her desirability. Even seven-year-old Tanya Marwah insists on wearing her mother’s high heels. “She’ll point out if anyone is dressed badly, asking them to change,” says her aunt, Surabhi Arora, who adds, “My daughter Tanmaya, 11, wants to look ‘with-it’. She’s just got a hair cut with a side flick. She asks me, ‘Mom, am I looking sexy enough?'”

Is the sexy, little girl here to stay? She’s happily gyrating her body to the latest item numbers. Call it the Lolita Effect, or how pre-teen girls are overtly impressed by ‘perfect bodies’ in glossy magazines and want to emulate Britney Spears, and Kareena Kapoor! Why, there’s even a padded bra available in the market for six-year-olds! Suddenly, female sexuality has got much younger.

There’s no difference between tweens and teens anymore. Here’s a self-styled generation that has shunned Barbies quite sometime back. Vandana, 12, goes to DPS RK Puram. “I like to dress well, especially when I go to posh places. A must is kajal, lip-gloss, eyeliner. Recently, I’ve started experimenting with eye-shadow. We just dress to look cool,” she says. Her favourite outfit: long tops and shorts with leg warmers and canvas shoes; her favourite show: Life with Derek and Wizards of Waverly Place. She likes to be “well-dressed at all times, even at home. I love my bangles, kajal, eye-shadow, jewellery.” Author Meenakshi Gigi Durham in her book, The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualisation of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It, talks about why society targets young girls. “A few myths are flourishing — like the myth of the “perfect” body and flaunting it; the myth that girls need to please and attract boys. We need to wake up to the darker side.”

Read the full article here.
As almost always, Parentree has a solution. As a parent or as a concerned adult, here’s what you can do:

Explain advertising to the child: Have a discussion with them on the advantages and disadvantages of advertising. Teach them about how advertisers help us by providing information on new products. But also teach them that advertisers only show them what is good about their product while hiding its shortcomings. Explain the non-realistic portrayals in advertisements. Since advertisers often use exaggerated situations to show off their products. These can be turned to your benefit. Have a discussion with your child on what was real and what was exaggerated. Let them think about it. Don’t tell them.

You will be surprised how smart children are when asked this. Most of them will immediately realize that the advertisement was not realistic. In this case also, take a real example when discussing this. You can even have them compare a product as shown in an advertisement with what it looks in real life.

With good parental guidance and open discussion, children can be educated about what is good and bad about advertisements and it will help them make better decisions as they grow up.

Disturbing as it is, its unfortunately true, the influence advertisements have on growing mind. Some advertisements, and focussing on children in advertisements have been banned in the US, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that such harmful advertising will disappear overnight. The best we can do is to be aware and stay prepared. 

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