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Advertising: Teens

Teen listening to iPod

Many ads - TV and radio commercials, for example - are easy for teens and adults to identify. Others are much tougher to spot. Teens often claim not to be swayed by ads; the truth is they may not realize why they think something is cool or desirable.

Much of the advertising a teenager consumes is designed to make him want things. Ads seek to grab your teen's attention, persuading him to feel something - even fear or intimidation - and to take action as a result. As a parent, you face a similar challenge: you want him to feel something - in this case, confident and informed - and to take action by thinking independently. As pervasive as advertising is, you can take the steps below to cut back its role in your teen's life.

5 ways to Promote Ad Savvy

  1. Remind your teen that ads thrive on undermining self-confidence.

    When you see an ad that cultivates the fear of being unattractive, or the fear of seeming uncool, call it out. Discuss how the ad sponsor preys on viewers' insecurity. Talk to your teen about how ads try to sell an emotion or a lifestyle. Ask: Where did your desire to own a certain product (clothes, jewelry or the like) come from? What does it mean to have it? Is the product itself appealing? Or does its appeal come from the models and scenery used to present it?
  2. Encourage your teen to spot product placement.

    Mixing media with advertising, marketers increasingly use video games, TV shows and movies to build brand awareness. They aim to associate their products with the latest title. When you spy a video character using or wearing branded merchandise, or when a product just happens to appear in a character's hands during a movie or TV show, alert your teen that it was no accident.
  3. Familiarize yourself and your teen with the concept of "cool hunting."

    In a bid to find out what's cool and trendy, companies may also mine Web sites run by others, such as SmartGirl Internette. Check out Frontline's "Merchants of Cool" to learn more about the devious ways advertisers reach teens.
  4. Show your teen she can speak out against ads.

    Despite the growing presence of ads and their stereotypes, many people are working to fight commercialism, especially in public spaces. Check out Adbusters and Commercial Alert, or look for organizations such as AlterNet: WireTap - produced by youth to combat commercialism.
  5. Encourage your teen to take an active role in challenging commercialism.

    Many of us claim to be immune to advertising, but few of us are ever free from marketers' persuasions. Encourage your teenager to explore the work of groups such as the New Mexico Media Literacy Project, which sponsors the annual BadAd Contest for grades 5-12.
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