Should We Let Our Kids Watch Ads?

Are we turning our kids into tiny consumerists by inundating them with advertisements?

Things my daughter does not know about: the “I feel like chicken tonight” dance, the “I, I, love, love, double, double, Chex, Chex” jingle, that Keebler elves exist or that Caramilk has a secret.

During the holiday season, The Guardian published an article on keeping kids away from advertising in order to keep them from becoming tiny consumerists, wanting everything all the time. I am not pro-consumer culture; I am not pro-kids getting everything they want—but something about the article and the advice didn’t sit well with me.

Ultimately, I think the problem is above parents—I’d love kids to not see ads because there are no ads to see. But I think that is on advertisers and companies, obviously parents can’t create an ad-free world outside of living in a complete bubble. Beyond that, though, I actually think my daughter sees less ads than my siblings and I did as kids.

My daughter is five-years-old, born in the era of internet radio and subscriber television, after the days of public cable. It used to be that you couldn’t turn any media on without seeing or hearing ads, but now you actually can—with the customized options available, it’s possible to barely have ads in your home, at least.

My daughter doesn’t recognize fast food chain logos. I’m not against junk food, but I have various food allergies, so we don’t eat at fast food chains specifically. She knows the Ikea logo, but asks what the red and yellow McDonald’s “m” is for. I am not a super hippie-ish parent, or at least I had no intentions of being. I used disposable diapers and tried to get my kid to take a bottle from day 1 (she wouldn’t).

My brothers and I could have recited dozens of commercial scripts—for food, toys, movies—at any given time. We could have sung dozens of jingles, I still can. My daughter, on the other hand, knows none. Tony the Tiger and Captain Crunch might as well have had guest bedrooms in our house. I’m sure I had Fido Dido on at least one t-shirt. My daughter doesn’t know any of these characters, nor does she know today’s versions of them.

She knows Dora, Blue’s Clues, Big Bird, and sure when she sees them on a colouring book or Pez dispenser she wants them. But that’s not about advertising specifically. She sees me click x’s to close pop-up ads online; she gets annoyed if we have to sit through an ad at the start of a YouTube video—that all television had built-in commercials (like shows not being available on-demand) is inconceivable to her.

She’s never heard that it’s worth the drive to wherever to go to a boat show or buy leather coats or couches, because she is rarely exposed to commercial radio other than in passing. There are ways for us to listen to music without it. The place she sees advertising the most is on public transit, but much of that isn’t geared to children at all. Ads for laser eye surgery or distance education go completely over her head.

Keeping ads from my kid has been inherent, and it’s not until I sing-song something about Snap, Crackle and Pop that I even tend to notice this. The other piece of this, though, is that I don’t want my daughter to be an alien. I don’t want her inundated with brand-recognition, but I want her to be able to relate to the world she lives in and the people around her. I want her to be able to participate in conversations and have cultural references. Not because I think the products or ads themselves are good in any way, but because they exist whether or not she’s exposed.

Maybe I lucked out. I’ve yet to be asked for a million-piece Lego set or trip to Disney World (realizing my daughter may not know this exists either…); maybe that’s my daughter’s nature—but I don’t think Doc McStuffin’s stickers from the checkout aisle on occasion are really turning her into a tyrant any day soon. 

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