I used to teach a class at USC called “Using Information Resources.” One of the topics I covered was Media Literacy. My students all hoped to be future classroom teachers, so in this particular lesson, I focused on advertisements and pop-up ads that are found on television during children’s programming and in magazines, comic books, apps/websites for children.
I often invited Media Literacy expert, Frank Baker, to speak to my students and he would lead them in a hands-on activity about advertising to children. Baker has been a media educator for 20+ years – having first worked in broadcast television and then in public education as a specialist in instructional television. The information he shared was eye opening then, as an educator, and now that I am a parent, I can see the effects advertising has on little brains – and my girl is only 2!
My toddler watches television while I make dinner each evening. Most of the TV she watches are programs we record for her – Daniel Tiger, Micky Mouse Clubhouse, and Peppa Pig are a few of her favorites. Recorded programming and shows on Netflix are great because we can fast forward through commercials (if there are any). However, sometimes, she is watching “live” television – so, she gets the added excitement of commercials. Just recently, I have started to hear, from the kitchen, “MOMMY! Come look!” or “MOMMY! I want that!” or, even better, “MOMMY! Buy that for me!” She is 2 and the media is grabbing her attention!
Because Frank Baker was such a wonderful resource to me as an educator, I asked him what I can do, as a parent, to help with the barrage of media on my two year old’s brain. Baker says his first piece of advice might be the most important: “every parent should be co-viewing with their child–sitting alongside watching. So, for example, if a child sees a commercial for a toy that’s doing impossible things on screen, the parent could interject that the commercial is not realistic: that the people who made the commercial want to make it desirable so that children will beg their parents to buy it.” (See The Benefits of Watching TV With Young Children)
For older children, he says, “parents could go online with their child and read reviews of toys before considering the purchase.”
Baker says, “parents should know these (toy) ads are highly persuasive and deceptive. Young eyes and minds cannot yet recognize the techniques being used to make the products look better than they really are. In media literacy workshops I do with teachers and students, we learn how a camera angle (for example) might make a toy look larger than it really is. Another tip: notice that frequently children who are portrayed playing with the toy are actually older than the age the toy is intended for. Next, parents should really be aware of the small print (if they can read it) in ads. Often times, you might hear the words ‘batteries not included, some assembly required.’ ”
The Effects of Screen Time on Children
For more information about the effects of screen time on your little’s brain (and not just on your budget), Baker recommends reading The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines to parents:
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
Websites you can visit to learn more about the media and children:
- Common Sense Media
- Center for Commercial Free Childhood
- Media Literacy Clearinghouse
- PBS Children and Media