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Home » Articles »

Children and Holiday Advertising


If the holidays are a time for cheer and peace on earth, why can they feel like a crash course in need, greed and speed? Many factors can make the holidays hectic, like the pressures of family and our own expectations. But one unavoidable factor is advertising. This is the season to be jolly and companies want us — and our children — to believe the sure-fire way to feel merry is to buy.

How to Buy Less and Get More this Season
  • Help your child get a handle on why advertising is so powerful.
    Whether we're a seven-year-old angling for a new scooter or a 37-year-old eying a 36-inch flat-screen TV, we long for material things. Sometimes, though, we don't realize our desire for a particular item began with a slick commercial that made it look good, or better still, made us feel good. The holidays offer a perfect opportunity to get your child thinking about advertising and the money and techniques companies use to influence how we think about ourselves and the products they are selling.

  • Show your child how to be a savvy consumer.
    Thirty-second TV and radio commercials aren't the only ads we encounter during the holidays. Stores are filled with promotions, too. Before you go shopping, have a plan about what you want to accomplish and share it with your child. Try to set expectations beforehand by saying, “We're going just to look” or “Everyone gets one indulgence this trip.” Similarly, help your child get in the habit of thinking about the purchases he or she makes. Make your child aware of Web sites where you can comparison shop, learn about products, read reviews and check out other buyers' opinions. These resources can demonstrate to your child that some purchases require more consideration and less impulse.

  • Talk to your child very directly about what the holidays mean to your family.
    In the rush of the holiday season it's easy to take for granted the deeper value we place on the holidays themselves. Convey what the holidays mean to you through conversation with your children. Also, talk to children about making purchases that are consistent with your family's values. For example, when it comes to buying high-tech gifts, you may be drawn to a digital camera, video recorder or audio recording attachment for an iPod because they foster creativity, or you may like a certain software program because it lets you reduce the number of ads streaming into your home. Likewise, if charitable giving or volunteering is a part of your family's holiday routine, find a way to involve your child, perhaps by visiting the charity's Web site before contributing or including your child in volunteer work.

    ZOOM's Families in Action section has tips for volunteering as a family.

  • Encourage your child to make gifts instead of buying them.
    An ad can make a toy or other potential gift look very appealing because it's brand new and ready-to-use (or, at least, ready-to-assemble). Gifts that are hand-made can be as worthwhile as purchased ones— often more so — because the giver gets to do all of the creating. This can be true of cookies and cupcakes, as well as digital creations like electronic cards, scrapbooks and videos. Because some homemade gifts require more planning and time on your part try to avoid rushing your child through a project or suggest gift ideas that require less time upfront. For example, children can give a simple IOU note with the promise to babysit one night, wash the car or help prepare a meal.

  • Use the holidays to seek out free music and art.
    Although many ads during the holidays promote activities and products with a price tag, others highlight worthwhile community events. Show your child how to sift through listings, like those from local Web sites and newspapers, for musical performances, caroling and other events your family will enjoy. You may want to explain how sometimes a simple line of text, such as “Children's Chorale Performance at 8:00,” can represent something worth checking out. Simply because an event isn't marketed with a full-page ad doesn't mean it won't be interesting.

  • Slow down the pace and unplug.
    Let your child know your family need not get overwhelmed by holiday hype. Remember to build in quiet times when advertising can't seep in, declaring certain times as media breaks or family time. Turn off the TV, shut down the computer —and relax with one another. Try dusting off some old board games, going for a walk to spy the kookiest neighborhood decorations or convincing older family members to tell unusual stories from their holiday's past.

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