TV Advertising is Bad for Children

By Garry Cooper

More than 30 years ago, cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out that we perceive the media’s effect on us as poorly as fish perceive the water they swim in. Now, the American Psychological Association (APA) says that we’d better start paying more attention to the pervasive effects of advertising on children’s minds. The average American child sees more than 40,000 commercials a year, and advertisers spend more than $12 billion annually marketing to them—double the amount of 10 years ago. A growing body of research suggests links between children’s advertising and obesity, parent-child conflicts, violence and aggression, later tobacco and alcohol use, and a brittle self-esteem based on possessions.

“Advertising to kids is like shooting fish in a barrel,” warns Berkeley, California, psychologist Allen Kanner, one of 60 psychologists who began lobbying the APA about their concern about advertising to children five years ago. Several other countries restrict children’s advertising: Greece bans toy advertisements on TV between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.; Sweden bans all TV advertising aimed at children under 12; and Denmark, Finland, and Norway don’t allow sponsorship of any children’s programs. Canada’s Broadcasting Code, which severely restricts children’s advertising, bans ads implying that a product will make a child happier or more popular.

The 60 psychologists’ efforts have paid off. In February, the APA’s Task Force on Advertising and Children formally backed a proposal to restrict advertising to kids 8 years old and younger. The task force’s report carefully lays out why children should be seen as victims of advertising, not consumers. Adults respond to commercials by automatically putting on cognitive filters, which tell them that the commercial intends to persuade, that such an intent means there’ll be biased information, and that biased information demands different interpretive strategies. Children lack these cognitive filters, so exposing them to advertising is like sending them to the beach without sunscreen.

The APA report points out that children under the age of 8 can’t grasp the notion that commercials have a purpose other than entertainment, and they completely believe what they see and hear. Available online at www.apa.org/releases/childrenads.pdf , the report presents a great deal of research about the harmful effects of children’s advertising.

The next step, say Kanner and Linn, is to mobilize public support through congressional hearings, to turn the report’s general call for restrictions into specific actions. Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children (SCEC), an organization of health care professionals, educators, and parents, has posted an online petition for people to e-mail to their congressional representatives at their website, www.commercialexploitation.org.

source: Psychotherapy Networker

 

David Britton and Roberta Lester-Britton specialize in helping parents raise their children.