Shielding children from the snare of advertising

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021 00:00 |
Damaris Kabura Weru, her husband Peter Weru and their children Naomi Muthiri and Elisha Kanake. Photo/PD/COURTESY

Every other day, thousands of children across the country, and the world, are exposed to different kind of adverts, which appear on different platforms — from TV, radio, YouTube, billboards, magazines, newspapers, movies/series, online games, the internet, social media and many others.

According to the American Psychological Association, an average child is exposed to more than 40,000 TV commercials a year.

Advertisers, especially target younger children because they are naive and the easiest to persuade.

Studies have shown that from the age of three, children can differentiate between brands and logos, which later on cement them as loyal customers for their preferred brand or logo. 

Children represent an important demographic to marketers because they influence their parents’ buying decisions and are the adult consumers of the future.

Psychologists argue that when you target adverts at children, and create that desire in them to have your product, they use ‘pester power’ to get their parents to buy the desired product. 

“Pester power” refers to children’s ability to nag their parents into purchasing items they may not otherwise buy.

Providing alternative

Psychologist John Mark Otieno says advertising may have negative efffects on children such as provoking alcohol consumption and smoking of cigarettes, cause eating disorders, make them develop materialistic feelings (consumerism), beguiles children to try dangerous stunts, provoke violence and aggresive thoughts, among others. 

Just recently, the International Children’s Day of Broadcasting was celebrated across the world with calls for broadcasters around the world to pay more attention to children’s programmes, air quality programmes for children and most importantly, allow children to be part of the programming process.

During a virtual event that was held to mark the day, it became apparent that children under three years of age are sometimes exposed to content that is not appropriate and child friendly, but just for profit.

“There is serious shortage of age-appropriate media,” said Lynette Okengo, from the Africa Early Childhood Network who spoke during the virtual event. 

Karago Kabura, a parent of two teenagers aged 19 and 16 years says in as much as some advertisements are educative and informative, others are not, hence parents need to limit their children’s exposure to advertising.

“The best way to tame children from watching too much advertisement that doesn’t enrich their knowledge is simply to have them engaged in other activities that are equally interesting and capture their attention,” says Kabura.

“Children get attracted to these adverts because most of them are usually short with catchy phrases and eye-catching.

This is what gets them glued to TV screens. You will even hear some children repeat word for word the phrases or lyrics to a song in an advert.

If one is to take away the attention of the children from the TV; they must in return provide another means, which should and must be equally captivating than what is on the TV,” she explains.

According to Kabura, in this era of advancement of internet and other social media platforms, it is important for parents to involve their children in activities that are mind involving, interesting and creative.

These activities must also not be too repetitive as children lose interest fast.

Susan Catherine Keter, a transformational life coach says the brains of children below school age are not developed enough to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Yet advertising is more of fantasy, with high gear persuasion.

“At that age, children’s brains have not developed critical thinking or the ability to analyse issues and question things.

Their brains absorb like a sponge. The information they absorb goes to form their deep-rooted value systems, something they will not be consciously aware of even later in life,” says Keter.

Dangers abound

She offers: “They will be vulnerable to bad choices such as opting for junk foods, which are high in calories yet low on nutrients because at the sub-conscious level they believe that such foods are for people of class.

Girls who watch advertising from a young age where certain looks are glorified (thin girls, light skinned, with long silky hair) are likely to develop negative body image and self-esteem issues and could unconsciously opt for procedures such as bleaching of the skin and body enhancement procedures in an effort to match the image of beauty that is buried deep at the subconscious level.”

She advises parents not to trust content at face value just because the label indicates that it is appropriate for a particular age.

“Watch it and decide if it is appropriate for your young child or not. For older children, you can talk to them and critically, analyse some adverts and their intended purpose,” she says.

As a parent, it is also important to talk to your child about protecting his or her online privacy.

Children give advertisers a lot of information just by downloading an app. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are conjuring up ways to make money off the behavioural data they can collect on children.

Marketers use different techniques to appeal to children. “Advertising is subtle nowadays, hidden even in cartoons and computer games, hence be slow to trust any content based on what the label indicates,” Keter adds.

Brands appealing to teens take advantage of their particular vulnerabilities: the desire to fit in, to be perceived as attractive, and to not be a huge dork.

Teens are extremely attuned to their place in the peer hierarchy, and advertising acts as a kind of “super peer” in guiding them toward what’s cool and what’s acceptable.

Others appear in form of bribe. For example, you get a free toy when you buy a product.

There are also games where you play and win a prize if you buy a product. Others use catchy tunes, repeat the ad over and over again so that it makes it difficult to forget it or tell an interesting story or joke.

Careful guidance

Sex is used in commercials to sell everything from beer to food and cars. New research is showing that teenagers’ exposure to sexual content in the media may be responsible for earlier onset of sexual intercourse or other sexual activities.

Gospel artiste Princess Farida says there is need for guidance and supervision from the parents on the kind of content their children watch and are exposed to.

“We carefully review and select what our children watch on TV. For example, we do not allow our children to watch adverts of certain products such as cigarettes, alcohol or condoms.

But if it’s an advert that bears a good message, then why not let them be informed,” says Farida.

Farida and her husband have learnt to help their children strike a balance between school work and other co-curricular activities. 

“If they get opportunities to appear in adverts, we don’t stop them. We are always present, working with producers and supporting our children by helping them memorise their lines and act it out like professionals.

We have signed them with reputable firms and organisations,” Farida says.

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