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Advertising: Pre-Teens

Brother and sister watching TV

"Tweens" - children ages 9 to 14 - have become a lucrative market in the last few years. As marketers grow more aggressive in creating ads that appeal to tweens, fight back by encouraging your child to think for herself.

In a bid to woo your child, advertisers create commercials designed to evoke emotional responses rather than critical thinking. Ads are meant to sell not just products, but feelings. Advertisers aim to make your child want to feel sophisticated and popular. Their strategy is to make him fear being left out, creating the illusion that buying their product will make him feel good about himself.

You have the opportunity to shape how your child decodes the messages he receives from the marketplace. You can help him become a shrewd analyzer of ads and a confident believer in himself.

6 ways to Promote Ad Savvy

  1. Get your child in the habit of questioning advertisements.

    Try muting a TV commercial, then ask your child to guess what the ad might be saying. Or have your preteen listen to an ad with her eyes closed, then challenge her to guess what it may be showing.
  2. Urge your child to question what's missing from an ad.

    Point out when an advertising message is unrealistic or promotes a stereotype: What is the company not telling us? Do you know anyone who looks like that or lives like that?
  3. Have your child think about the economic incentives behind ads.

    So many ads are sleek and clever, it's easy to forget that they exist to sell products. Talk to your child about why a commercial would try to entertain and persuade kids like him.
  4. Show your preteen it's possible to experiment with advertising.

    Ads appeal to emotions. Your child can learn this firsthand by participating in contests such as New Mexico Media Literacy's BadAd competition, or by exploring the activities available on the Don't Buy It Web site. Point out how commercials can influence the way a person feels, sparking a desire to be attractive or a fear of being uncool.
  5. Talk to your child about which purchases your family makes —and why.

    Help your child understand why you buy certain items and not others; let him hear that you are making conscious choices. Explain that the values you hold often motivate the purchases you make.
  6. Foster skepticism of advertising, especially new forms on the Web.

    Some commercial elements—an ad banner, a Web site that prominently features products—may be obvious. Other elements are less clear. These include interactive bots, which can appear as electronic creatures on a computer desktop to promote a product, and even entire sites that collect children's and teens' opinions for clients. Remind your child never to reveal any personal information online.
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