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  • Writer's pictureJunior Oliveira

Help your child to think critically about social media ads

Hello Everyone! It is fascinating how memories of old TV adverts can take us straight back to a time and place. I remember begging my mum to take me to that popular (red and yellow) fast-food chain after seeing a happy smiling clown and his funny gang in a TV commercial; oh my God, I was obsessed with those "UFO" meal boxes, and I really believed that spaceships could fly far longer and higher than any of my paper airplanes. Also, I clearly remember how good the TV adverts were in the 80s and 90s, but of course, they weren't as technically advanced as some of them are these days, but nothing is more advanced than a child's imagination. At that time, I think that, in a way, TV adverts were an intrinsic part of the "magic entertainment factor" of media. And let's be honest, in the past, the TV adverts were usually better than most of the TV shows. This is that kind of memory that always sparks a sense of happy nostalgia.

Getting back to 2021, the picture is completely different: in the contemporary world with advertising now ever-stretched across social media platforms, in my opinion, TV adverts just do not seem anywhere near as fascinating as they used to be. Thus, it also makes me think that we have been influenced by our favourite TV characters, or by product placements and or by celebrity endorsements for ages. But from a parent's perspective, I believe that in today's digital world, marketing messages reach our children in less obvious but more direct ways in comparison to a few decades ago.

However, this comes with problems: the new adverts don’t come between our main blocks of a TV show - basically, they are "part of the show". Whether accessing the Internet, or watching TiKTok & YouTube Videos, or online games, apps or any web-connected toys, our kids are targets for marketing messages. These commercial contents can be delivered through YouTubers, TikTokers, or gaming influencers, or through innocent free downloadable toddlers' games. According to a recent study conducted by the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, most-downloaded free apps for children under the age of 5 have commercial content. This research reviewed more than 130 different apps and games aimed at children, and they found that 100% of free apps and nearly 90% of paid apps included ads. The frequency of marketing content was the same whether an app was classified as “educational” or not.

Thus, it is essential to encourage our kids to think critically about the messages they encounter across different media platforms. Fortunately, there are several pieces of advice on how families can exercise some control over the influence of marketing content presented by the media and how to help our kids to understand commercial messages and empower them to make smart decisions.

Explain what adverts are (for young children):

Help your child to learn what makes something an advert, and make sure that they are able to recognize an ad; and even if they are very young, pre-schoolers for example, just explain that adverts are different from any sort of content because the aim of an ad is to get their attention to a product, and then to make the viewer ask somebody to buy it for them. Also, try to spot things together: "‘Let's see your favorite video now?! Hmm is that an advert or a part of the entertainment program or something else?’” It might sound silly, but it makes them aware of the persuasive messages presented in the media.

Teach your child to be smart about Social Media (pre-teens and teenagers)

Make sure they are able to understand the Social Media system. Most children don’t have any idea of how social media actually works and why. If you help them gain some knowledge, it helps to make the social media platforms they use less persuasive. If they are a regular audience of social media posts, their days can become inundated by frivolous scrolling through endless social media feeds; thus, they might experience online celebrity fallacy. And usually, these people have a huge number of followers, and children might be influenced by them. Often, it might cause children to feel like they are friends with these online personalities and develop a false sense of relationship because they live in the shadow of a celebrity’s life. In addition, it causes children to yearn for the same life style presented by celebrities, which is far from reality.

Help your child to build a foundation for critical thinking

Try to encourage critical thinking by asking your child if they know who created a specific advert, or how that advert makes them feel, then ask them what kind of words or images or songs grab their attention. There are several ways to stimulate their curiosity and critical skills. Try to ask questions like “Why do you think they chose this boy to talk about this product?” or “How much is this product that this celebrity is talking about?” or “How much is a similar product that does not have any advert on social media or TV?” or “How come adverts never tell us how much something costs?” Then, try to build on these lessons as your child gets older.

We need to make our children learn that some commercial messages try to influence their emotions, decisions, and behaviour. And in the digital world, it can be hard to differentiate between what a marketing message is and what entertainment content is. It is interesting that in a world in which young children are getting access to myriad options of information sources, most children do not seem to have even that level of understanding of persuasive intention embedded in what they see on social media; thus, it makes them more vulnerable to persuasive messages.

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