Last week I wrote about Free Range Kids and the idea that parents these days can be a bit too paranoid and overprotective.  But that whole conversation made me realize that there are some things we’re probably not protecting our kids from that we should be.  And the thing that springs to mind is advertising.

I’ve noticed the negative effect advertising can have on children in quite a dramatic way this week.  You see we recently painted our mailbox, (it’s now a lovely purple colour) and in the process our No Junk Mail sticker got moved to the side of the mailbox.  Which means that if the person delivering the junk mail comes down the hill, we’re spared the junk mail.  But if they come up the hill, we receive copious amounts of it, mainly in the form of catalogues.

The first time we received a catalogue it was kind of a novelty. I thought it might be fun to cut out the pictures of bikes and dolls as a little activity. But what happened almost immediately was that Birdy started browsing.  “Mum, can we get this nightie?”  “Can I have that doll?”  “I don’t like my blue bike, I want that pink one with Barbie on it!”  And it wasn’t just for five minutes.  A whole week has gone by and she is still asking for the Dora Explorer nightie she saw in the catalogue.  Advertising turns our kids into little consumers who think that they need all this stuff.  And it’s also an introduction to the power of branding because they don’t want just any bike it has to be the one with the Disney Princesses.  And that’s all just the ripple-on effect of one Big W catalogue!

So other than a No Junk Mail sticker, what are some ways to protect kids from the power of advertising?  Well, I would just avoid all magazines and commercial television.  There are so many good shows on ABC2 and on DVD that you never have to go near a commercial channel.  But even then, the ABC puts their entire product catalogue in the DVD jacket, so the minute you bring home a new DVD you start getting requests for another one.  Of course the other thing we can do collectively is try to hold accountable corporations that target children with their advertising.  For example, there’s been a lot of discussion in the media about the latest Witchery clothing campaign aimed at children because it makes the kids look like adults.  If parents actually start to speak up about advertising aimed at kids, we might be able to encourage a bit more corporate responsibility.  One way to do that is through grass-roots organisations like Collective Shout and Kids Free 2 B Kids.

There’s a book by Tanya Adrusiak called Ad-proofing Your Kids that talks about the importance of being media literate and talking through with your children what the advertisers’ intention is.  She says you should discuss things like: Who created this message?  What is the point of view?  What does it want me to do?  How does it make me feel?  Why is it on during this program?  She says most advertising is designed to make us feel that we’re lacking, particularly in the area of beauty and body image, so the less children are actually exposed to those messages in their early years, the better.

However, Tanya also points out that while children are very influenced by advertising, until the age of 8 they just don’t have the capacity to understand the persuasive intent of advertisers.  And she argues that if people are being advertised to, they have the right to be aware of it.  And for that reason she feels any advertising aimed at young children is wrong.  I couldn’t agree more.

Are you concerned about the effects of advertising on children?  How do you protect your children from it?