Our kids are growing up in the digital era, in a world filled with all sorts of different information channels. This naturally affects the way in which they develop and the way we evaluate their maturity. Now, as well as traditional development landmarks like ‘he’s walking’ or ‘she started to speak’, we use new ones: ‘she can already to turn on the tablet’ and ‘he knows how to switch TV channels’.
Of course, when they turn the tablet on, they soon come into contact with in-app ads. TV commercials seem to become a larger and larger portion of our screen time. We may not realise it, but our kids are one of the target audiences for many TV and in-app ads.
Easy catch for in-app ads and commercials
Kids don’t understand that one of the main purposes of app ads and TV commercials is to get access to their parents’ pockets. They’re willing to watch them again and again even when they don’t fully understand the message.
Somehow, endlessly repeated TV commercial clips or in-app purchase suggestions seem to be not as annoying to kids and teens as they are to us adults. Moreover, at some point these ads start to influence the formation of their views and opinions. Most kids absorb it like a sponge and it makes them stay at the screen longer and longer. We’ve written before how screen time can affect kids’ health and learning skills.
Ads as a cultural pillar
Recently I heard my son’s classmates enthusiastically discussing the features of a new game app. After a while I realised that the app had not yet even been released! Their debate over the game’s quality and playability was informed solely by a teaser trailer advertisement.
TV commercials and movie trailers have long held an influential role in our culture. With the rise of video sharing platforms that let you watch the same ad. many times over and apps which put adverts right into our hands, ads have become a formative part of our kids’ subculture. If you didn’t see the most recent ads, you’ll have less in common with and less to discuss with your peers. This could potentially affect your acceptance by the group.
Is it that bad?
Maybe it’s not all that bad. Connecting with others over a movie trailer or game ad is still connecting with others. At the same time, ads are fundamentally a sales tool, designed to get you to spend money. Kids are even more susceptible to them than the rest of us. There’s a reason there are rules in many countries governing what advertisers are allowed to do when it comes to marketing to kids.
It’s pretty hard to avoid ads altogether though. They do keep kids informed on current trends. They may even help develop memory (how many commercial jingles can your kids recite?). Of course, given the content and aim of the adverts, you might consider such memory formation to be something more sinister than celebration worthy. What can we do to make sure our kids lives and opinions aren’t completely directed by the ads they watch?
The parental role
As parents we have a number of responsibilities when it comes to in-app ads and TV commercials.
- First of all, we can limit our kids’ screen time to make sure that they receive a healthy balance of other social inputs and more physical activity.
- Secondly, we can monitor the apps they use and the channels they watch to ensure that they are not being inundated with advertising and to check that the advertising they Do see is age appropriate. High quality apps tend not to include in-app ads.
- Improve the quality of their screen time by discussing what they’ve watched or played with them afterwards.
- Most importantly, we need to make sure our kids are media savvy. Advertising is everywhere. From billboards, to TV shows and from T-shirts to Google. Even if we’re good at regulating screen time, at some point our kids need to learn how to discern what the advertisers in their life are up to. Why are they being shown this? What does the advertiser want from them? Is there a hidden advertisement in a seemingly ad free show or article? How are they being manipulated?
With these bases covered, we can help our kids to understand their world, think freely, acquire priorities we approve of and generally make better decisions.