If Alcohol And Cigarette Ads Are So Dangerous, Why Do We Let Anyone Advertise To Kids?
Marketing alcohol and cigarettes to children is universally frowned upon. Joe Camel was a long time ago and even though tobacco companies are always looking for slick new ways to get their ads in front of kids, concerned parents and networks usually put up a pretty good front. But if we’ve acknowledged that advertising is so powerful that it can cause our kids to take up smoking and drinking, why do we let any company advertise directly to our children?
Since the obesity epidemic is on the uptick, especially with children, this debate has been revisited with taking food companies to task for hawking sugary cereals and sodas to kids in an increasingly unhealthy age. Having been continually slapped with restrictions regarding television ads, soda companies and the like are now setting up shop where the new generation of kids hang out: online. And since Facebook is now teeming with the 13 and under set, it’s essentially the wild wild west for advertisers looking to get their products ingrained in kids who are only a few clicks away.
But, physical health aside, letting advertisers into the minds of highly impressionable children can do nothing but harm. Advertising does deeply impact children as they’re not developed enough to understand that they are being marketed to in the first place. The American Academy of Pediatrics finds advertising to be “inherently deceptive” to kids and blatantly exploitative of children under eight years old. The more hours a child spends in front of the television, the more likelier they are to beg for the newest toy or some other high fructose corn syrup encased snack. And advertisements play very large role in the development of children, specifically how they view themselves, their worth, and their values.
Dr. Allen D. Kanner noted over 10 years ago that the advertisement of products to kids has the capacity to make them feel inferior without the latest toy. He said that this “narcissistic wounding” of children is causing them to not only resign themselves to consumerism, but that kid-aimed advertising is responsible for “an epidemic of materialistic values among children.” He told the American Psychological Association:
“Advertising is a massive, multi-million dollar project that’s having an enormous impact on child development.”
Advertising is of course what we have to thank for the word “tween,” having further shortened childhood once again with an endless array of products that encourage kids to be older. Girls are encouraged to be aware of their appearance at younger and younger ages thanks to a slew of Bratz Dolls that are promoted as “cool” because they prance around in miniskirts in between beloved Disney shows. Meanwhile, the average tween these days cares more about being famous than any other endeavor, and after being exposed to 40,000 commercials a year, I wonder why. The promise of a materialistic life as conveyed to children through the selling of products is an assault on their development, as they aren’t yet old enough to even understand media literacy — although there have been efforts which I very much applaud.
Sweden and Norway recognize these dangers, as they’ve made it illegal to advertise to children under the age of 12. Because until parents are the ones that are being coerced into buying that cool new Barbie or action figure, advertisers just have it all too easy.