According to one statistics website the average child in the United States watches an estimated 16,000 television commercials a year. My own personal opinion on many ads targeted at children today, seem to contain themes of hypersexuality, poor health choices, and even impulse control. A quick couple of hours spent watching ads promoting McDonald’s deep fried (non) chicken nuggets as a healthy and “happy meal” lead me to think there is no ethical, or social justification for how we market to children.
As described in “Part I – The Happiness Machine” we know marketing targets emotions, not rational thought, and it seems that ads today train children to choose products based on the celebrity marketing the product, or the cool factor the ad promotes – rather than the actual value. While we as educators extol the virtues of critical thinking – advertising does nothing but undermine critical thinking and promotes following the masses and living impulsively.
As educators (and parents) I see how extremely vital it is to teach children how to understand the media messages they get on a 24 hour cycle. Teaching children how advertising worksis key to developing not only critically thinking children, but also physically and mentally healthy children. However as a parent of a five year old who is targeted by Disney ads, Mattel ads and McDonald’s ads telling her to pigeon hole herself into gender roles, eat unhealthy food, and even dress like Miley Cyrus – I am often not sure her reasoning abilities allow her critically analyze and be cynical of these messages. Are we as a society relying on our youngest and most vulnerable to protect themselves from dangerous messages marketing directly at them?? Surely we as a society can do more to protect them – rather than leaving them out to the wolves.