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Feature Article


young boy watching TVParents should limit children’s exposure to advertising

Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, human development specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension


In the past, parents were the focus for companies selling children’s products. Today, however, advertising is aimed at children through media, and intense advertising pressure has impacted family spending. According to the National Institute on Media and the Family, the advertising industry spends $12 billion on marketing targeted to children per year. Children 12 years old and younger influenced more than $600 billion in household spending. A British study found that 85 percent of a sample of 4- to 13-year-old children acknowledged that they had asked their parents to buy advertised products and more than two-thirds admitted that their parents had met their request.


The Advertising Educational Foundation’s study shows brand awareness starts early. Two-thirds of the parents interviewed said their children are brand aware and most agreed that brand awareness begins around age 2 or 3. About one-quarter of those parents claimed their children began to recognize brands as early as age 12 to 18 months. Children as young as 3 years old recognize brand logos.


Young children are vulnerable to advertising because they often believe everything they hear from advertising. The America Psychological Association Task Force on Advertising and Children reports that children under age 8 are not developmentally capable of distinguishing advertising from programming and fact from fiction in advertising messages. They cannot recognize that advertising is trying to sell products. Even older children and adults don’t always know whether advertising is telling the truth.


The International Journal of Behavioral Development report indicated a positive correlation between children watching TV alone and a greater number of toy requests. Children who watch more TV ask for more toys from advertisements and eat more advertised food than children who watch less TV. Food advertising sells products that are high in fat and sugar, which leads to unhealthy eating habits in children. Here are some suggestions to help parents protect children from advertising:


  • No television for babies and toddlers. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend TV for children under age 2, because their brain development depends on real human interactions. Talking, playing and spending time with parents are the most important things infants and toddlers need.
  • Limit screen time. Keep TV out of your children’s bedrooms. Children need active play to promote their development, social and physical skills. Set guidelines about what is appropriate viewing in your family and minimize exposure to commercial TV. Avoid exposure to cartoon series or Internet sites that are product linked.
  • Teach media literacy. Teach young children about advertising and distinguishing between commercials and programs. Let young children know it is time for a commercial and when the commercial is over you will watch the rest of the program. Watch TV programs with children and talk together about what you are seeing. Be a good listener to find out your children’s ideas and fears. Help them clear up misconceptions and share your ideas and concerns. Talking about TV advertising can help them think carefully and become educated consumers.
  • Buy does not mean love. Parents often feel guilty that they don’t spend enough time with their children. When children are whining and nagging, parents usually give in and buy whatever their children want. There are other ways to redirect children’s temporary desires for buying toys or junk food. For instance, spend time going for a walk, reading to your children, going to the library and promoting imaginative and creative play instead of imitating from TV programs or advertising.



American Academy of Pediatrics Press Release. 2007. Consistent, frequent TV viewing causes behavior problems. (accessed July 22, 2009).


Australian Council on Children and the Media Fact Sheet. 2009. Advertising – An overview. (accessed August 19, 2009).


Dittmann, M. 2004. Protecting children from advertising. Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association vol. 35, no. 6.


Fischer, Paul M., Meyer P. Schwartz, John W. Richards Jr., Adam O. Goldstein. 1991. Brand logo recognition by children aged 3 to 6 years: Mickey Mouse and old Joe the camel. Journal of the American Medical Association 266: 3145 - 3148.


National Institute on Media and the Family Fact Sheet. 2002. Children and advertising. (accessed June 25, 2009).



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Last Updated 12/02/2009