For a while, my kids were really into infomercials. They’d beg for a rotisserie so that we could “set it and forget it,” and they were totally mesmerized by that contraption that holds the toothpaste tube on the wall. We have a couple of “as seen on TV” items, like a cupcake pan that bakes the cupcakes with holes in the middle for icing, and Pillow Pets, which we bought at a department store once the craze wore off a bit.
While I myself find infomercials mildly entertaining, regular commercials annoy me. Not only are they often for products that we don’t buy, but unlike “as seen on TV” products, they advertise items that we see on the grocery store shelves every week. When my kids see smiling children drinking bright pink liquid yogurt, for example, they don’t want to eat the organic brand that we normally buy. Commercials also turn kids into name-brand shoppers: Instead of being content with a lower-priced generic equivalent, they want the brand name products.
So, what to do? Now that the kids are home for the summer, advertisers seem to be ramping up their television campaigns. Or, more likely, it just seems like it because now the TV is sometimes set to kiddie stations during the day. How to battle the gimme monsters when television commercials are contributors to the problem? Here are a few tips:
- Limit commercial TV. This is obvious, but sometimes hard to implement, particularly when kids want to watch certain shows. In this case, a DVR can prove invaluable; we can get through a 30-minute television show in about 22 minutes by simply fast-forwarding through the commercials! DVDs and services like Netflix can also allow your kids to watch a show or two that they like without being exposed to all of the commercials. (Remember that kids of any age shouldn’t be watching more than a couple of hours of television, commercial or not, each day!)
- Talk to your kids about the issue. Granted, this won’t work well if your kids are two or three years old, but school-aged kids are old enough to learn about advertising ploys. Older kids might even be interested in marketing methods and the psychological and sociological reasoning behind the way that products are marketed. Watching commercials might become a science project in itself!
- Conduct your own tests. If a brand of cereal is being touted as superior, experiment to see if it’s true. Buy one box of the brand name and another of the generic (or another brand), and run some blind taste tests and nutritional analyses of your own. Help your kids become educated consumers; these skills will last a lifetime!
- If all else fails, give in… to a point. Offer to let them spend their allowances on the items that they want, or give them a couple of dollars to buy one snack item of their choosing. If the buy a package of cream-filled cakes, let them have one each day until they’re gone and let that be the end of that particular battle.
One day, your kids will grow up and won’t take as much stock in commercials. Until then, do the best you can to educate them, while allowing them to make some of their own mistakes, as well. Remember that it’s all a learning process!