We’re almost (but not quite!) at the end of our lengthy series on the intersection of money and parenting. Most recently, we talked with Dr. Allison Pugh to try to understand the answer to the question “Given that advertising is happening, how do parents and children respond?”
In this episode we take a step back by asking “what about that advertising?” with Dr. Esther Rozendaal of Radboud University in the Netherlands whose research focuses on children’s understanding of advertising messages. Can children understand that advertising is different from regular TV programming? At what age do they realize an advertisement is an attempt to sell them something? And what should parents do to reduce the impact of advertising on children? It’s all here in this episode.
Other episodes in this series
This episode is the first in a series on the intersection of parenting and money. You can find other episodes in this series:
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Hi, I’m Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives. But it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of respectful parenting. If you’d like to be notified when new episodes are released, and get a FREE Guide to 7 Parenting Myths That We Can Safely Leave Behind 7 Fewer Things to Worry About, subscribe to the show at yourparentingmojo.com. You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners in the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you’ll join us Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast.
Today’s episode is a continuation of a series that I’m doing on the intersection of childhood and money. We started by talking with New York Times money columnist Ron Lieber, on his book The Opposite of Spoiled and then continue the conversation with Dr. Brad Klontz about the money scripts that we pass on to our children. Next, we heard from Dr. Allison Pugh who studies the way that parents and children manage in our consumerist culture. Dr. Pugh is a sociologist who is more interested in how people interact with each other than the ways their brains work. And she also takes advertising as a given and says, since advertising and commercialization is happening, how do parents and children respond? But of course, there’s another side to the story. And that’s the perspective that yes, advertising is happening and what does this mean for our children? How do our children perceive advertisements? Can they understand when a company is trying to sell them something and can we teach them to be more aware about this or is it a lost cause?
Our guest today is Dr. Esther Rozendaal. She’s an associate professor At the behavioral Science Institute, as well as an associate professor in communication science at Radford University in the Netherlands. Dr. Rozendaal is an expert on young people’s media and consumer behavior and Her research focuses in large part on children and advertising. She obtained a master’s in Business Economics from Erasmus University Rotterdam followed immediately by an MSc in social psychology from the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands, followed by a PhD from the University of Amsterdam, for which she wrote her dissertation on the topic of advertising literacy and children’s susceptibility to advertising. Welcome Dr. Rozendaal. Thank you. Thanks so much for being here with us. So I wonder if we can sort of start at the beginning and just say, Okay, why do companies advertise? It seems as though companies advertise products because they want us to buy the products. But how does this actually happen? What kind of changes does advertising bring about in I guess all people, children and adults?
Dr. Rozendaal 02:57
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, of course. First of all, for companies and for their brands, it’s really important that we are aware of them, right? So if they want to make money, so if it’s of course the core business, we need to be aware of all the products that they are creating that they’re selling. So that’s actually the fact that we can recognize all those products when we are in shops, or even that we can free recall those products that we can say okay, so I’m in need for a new type of mascara, for example. And now suddenly, this brand pops up in my mind, I’d like to have it so that’s actually the first thing they like to create in our minds. And then of course, they want us to like all those brands and products that they are creating in all the surfaces they are thinking about. So once we do recognize those products and brands, and once we also like them, then the next step is of course that we are going to buy those products and that we want to request it So especially with kids, is it’s highly important that those children start asking their parents to buy.
Yes, every parent’s favorite form of advertising this way. Yeah. And so what kind of tactics to advertisers used to influence consumers? And I’m wondering, are these different for younger children and what what age did children just kind of understand these?
Dr. Rozendaal 04:27
Well, there are, of course, several tactics that they’re using. And when you look at children in particular, an often used appeal is the popularity appeal. So children are of course highly susceptible to the influence of their peers, and to being popular. So when you look at, for example, the traditional television commercials, one of the tactics that you can see quite often is that they are showing some really popular children surrounded by a group of other children using kind of product or service and being really happy about it and all the other kids smiling and happy. Yeah, they’re so happy. And this is actually also a technique that is now used quite often not only in the traditional television commercials but also on YouTube for example. So, there also you have deep popularity appeals. So children are films are also other influencers who are not children themselves. Also, they film themselves in settings in which they are really happy and popular, while using the products and the brands they are advertising. And also a thing which is really used quite a lot. For example, by McDonald’s is presenting children with free stuff. Right? So the freebies, the things you can get for free and also this is a technique that is seen online quite often. So also with banner ads. For example, on TV ones websites, there are like, showing things like, Okay, do you want to win a free toy? Do you want to get free tickets for a certain festival, just click here, provide us with some of your personal details, and then you’ll get a free toy or two tickets. So this is also something that is highly persuasive for children, particularly, but also for adults. Of course, we also want to have free stuff, right? So these are some of the techniques that are used, but there are many, many more.
Yeah, there really are. And I want to delve into one of those a little bit because I think it’s particularly hard for us to get our head around by just describing a literature review in a study. So there was a pretty recent literature review that was done in 2016. And it found a general consensus that food advertising is positively correlated with unhealthy food take but there’s a lack of insight into the causal relationship. So we don’t know if more children who are watching ads are unhealthy or if unhealthy children are watching more ads. And then related to that there was another study that was actually too recent to be included in that one from 2017. And I’m going to quote it says children who watched a movie with more food product placement and branding were more likely to choose the snack most highly featured in that movie than children who watched a movie without significant unhealthy branded foods placement. And so what the researchers are doing here is they were putting the children down in front of the movie album, the Chipmunks. And then after that these children were three times as likely to choose the cheese balls snack that was frequently featured in that movie as cheese puffs which weren’t seen in the film. And the children were saying then they weren’t particularly hungry. They were told they didn’t need to finish the snacks. They still ate on average about 800 calories or half the recommended amount of calories per day for children aged nine to 11. And so the researchers were thinking okay, maybe a child who sees a character often eating a product in a movie may be more likely to automatically choose that product in the future and then casting even further light on that and even more recent study from 2018 this is really an active field found that children, when you explain this concept to them, they initially don’t believe that integrated advertising could possibly have any impact on their life. So it seems as though you have some thoughts on this.
Dr. Rozendaal 08:17
Yeah. Well, the thing is with those integrated forms of advertising and these, these types of advertising received a lot these days, right, not only in the movies and TV programmes, but also on YouTube, in different influencer videos. The thing is that it’s so highly integrated and embedded in non commercial content that children and adults as well do not always recognize the product placement as a type of persuasion with a commercial intent. So all the possible defense mechanisms that could be there are not really likely to be activated in situations like this. And then what happens Is that the brands and the products are associated with a happy stuff in the movie. So this is called effect transfer or evaluative conditioning. So there are a lot of nice things going on in those movies, right? So a lot of funny things. And those brands and products are placed in parts of the movies in which the feelings are really positive. So those positive feelings are associated, this is really an implicit and oftentimes a non conscious process. So it becomes an association in the mind of which we are not really aware and children are also not really aware about this force. And I really recognize this from my own interviews that I had with children about product placements in in influencer videos, that when you ask them, okay, do you think this really affects you? So they just show this product or this brand in in their video? Does it affect you that you’re saying no, no. If this really this doesn’t affect me at all, and they really believe that some of those children, they do think that it affects others. So this is the third person effect, right? It’s not me, he undercuts me. And this often shows something, it shows that somehow they think, yeah, okay, there could be something here. But what I’ve learned is that being influenced is not really a positive thing. So I resist the fact that it could possibly have an effect on me.
And to be fair, I’d probably say the same thing.
Dr. Rozendaal 10:40
So yeah, I would say the same thing as well, even even now, I know that it’s not true, right. I’ve done this research for almost 15 years now. So I should know better than that. But
we all want to think we’re not influenced right.
Dr. Rozendaal 10:58
And sometimes, we are Actually, no, that is not true. But many times we actually think that we are not influenced. So sometimes we need just need some proof that we actually are to make us aware of the fact that it can have a major impact on our behaviors or thoughts or feelings. Mm hmm. But yeah, so this is really the thing with integrated types of advertising. It’s a less conscious influencing process that’s going on and we see it more and more often.
Yeah. Okay. So I wonder if we can get into the heart of your research. And maybe you can briefly start by defining for us what is advertising literacy?
Dr. Rozendaal 11:36
Yeah, advertising literacy. It’s really it’s a broad concept. The way I’d like to define it is that it’s a set of understandings, it’s in the literature, you can see that the focus is mainly on different types of knowledge and understanding. So first, you have to start with it’s the understanding how you can recognize different types of activity. And also actually the ability to recognize different types of advertising. And with that comes an understanding of its commercial intent. It’s the selling intent and also the persuasive intent, and also the understanding of the different tactics that are being used by advertisers to influence you. It also includes some understanding of the economic models behind advertising, about the source of advertising, who’s creating it with what kind of purposes but on the other hand, in the literature, you can also see advertising literacy being defined as a kind of attitude. And this is also what I like about advertising literacy. It’s not only about having certain kind of knowledge, it’s also about having a general critical attitude towards advertising. So that include a healthy kind of this liking, so to say, right, so it’s more like okay, I just this like this. Unless you really convinced me that this is really a good thing. So it’s kind of a certain level of skepticism, not believing the things for what they are. It’s about criticizing, it’s also about thinking about the appropriateness of advertising. So especially with integrated types of advertising, it’s also important to have a certain feeling of Okay. How do I feel about this particular tactic? Is it okay that advertisers use these more implicit wastes to influence me? Is that appropriate for me or not? So yeah, so it includes glutes, all these kind of things. And then I do believe that it’s also really important also as a part of advertising literacy, that it’s a certain scale of using this general knowledge and these general critical attitudes that you can have to work advertising That you are able to activate those knowledge structures and also those attitudes when it’s really necessary. So when you are really exposed to advertising, when you’re actually exposed to it, and when you recognize it that you can also try to evaluate those advertising messages in light of the attitudes and the knowledge that you have about it. So that’s, I call it advertising literacy performance. So it’s really using your advertising literacy, instead of only having it. So you can see a large difference between for sure. Yeah, and
I wonder if you can talk us through the main stages that children go through as they’re developing and sort of an adult level of understanding of advertising recognition, because I think this doesn’t come at an early age and it doesn’t come all at once, right?
Dr. Rozendaal 14:51
No, no, no, no, it definitely develops when children get older. So when you look at the literature, what it says about family Young children is that they are able to recognize clear forms of advertising. So for example, television commercials, children around the age of five, and recognize these commercials as being an ad, and I have a five year old son myself, and this year around Christmas, I really became aware of the fact that around the age of five, they start recognizing those advertisements on television only he also watches YouTube in there. It’s a totally different story. But what’s also interesting is that so he said, okay, Mommy, this is advertising. So I asked him, okay, so do you know what advertising is? And he said, No, it doesn’t matter. It’s just fun. So, what you can see here is that when children are younger, they are probably able to recognize those clear forms of advertising, but they are not yet able to understand the whole commercial intent behind it. The only thing is He could explain to me was that Yeah, so I know that all these things, I can put it on my wish list, right. And I can get it for Christmas. And I’m like, Okay, so that’s, of course, one of the basic elements of advertising that is provide you with information of all the things that are in store. But that’s just a basic understanding. And you can see it in the literature as well with those young children. And when they get older, you can see that their brain is developing, of course, so they’re developing a certain theory of mind. And that’s actually the ability to think from the perspective of someone else, and also did his theory of mind as different layers. But basically, it really means that when children get older, they are more and more able to understand that there are other people at ISIS in this respect, that might have this Front thoughts than they have, and that might have different intentions than they have. So first, they need to be able to understand these different perspectives before they are able to understand that there are advertisers that want to persuade them to sell products, and then also to make money. So you can see that around the age of eight children are well, better able to understand perspective, a different perspective and that they are also better able to understand the intentions of advertisers and all sorts of different persuasive tactics.
Okay, and then there’s sort of another level that comes in at around age 13, isn’t there?
Dr. Rozendaal 17:41
Yeah, well, and that also has to do quite a lot to do with critical thinking. So around the age of 12, or 13, children are much better able to think about abstract concepts. And that’s of course, also highly important also to email. Wait advertising and also to develop a critical attitude towards it. And not only so when children are really young, they can say, just advertising is stupid and you don’t? Well, you just do not believe what they’re saying. But they’re actually just repeating what their parents are telling them, and not really, really understanding why they should be skeptical, since that’s also, of course, a pretty abstract thing to think about. So when they are older, they’re better able of doing so. And then of course, also because they’re just gaining more and more experience with advertising, and not only with the clear types, like television commercials, but also online types of advertising, integrated forms of advertising, since they are more experienced, they are also better able to grasp what’s going on. Mm hmm.
Yeah. And so the majority of parents who are listening to this have preschoolers and a good chunk of them are less than five years old, and I can hear them I can even see them. throwing their hands up and saying What? My younger child really doesn’t have much of a grasp of this. And of course, this comes online at different ages for different children. But in general, is it safe to say that a three year old, even a four year old has a really pretty nebulous grasp of what advertising is?
Dr. Rozendaal 19:19
Yeah. Yeah. For their brains is just really, really difficult to understand what’s going on. And I think that the things that they can understand is that okay, the things you see here are the things that you can buy in the shop, since that’s really concrete for them, right? So they go to a shop and they see that you can, well, there are products over there. And so it’s here to inform you, but they also want you to buy it, but the thing is that if you tell them that they want you to buy they say, yes, of course, I want to buy it, right. So in their experience products are just there. And you can have it you can just go in Get it. So the whole thing about the economic model behind it, and also that product cost money. Well, that’s pretty difficult for them to grasp. Mm hmm.
Yeah. The only barrier is whether or not their parents is yes or no. Yeah,
Dr. Rozendaal 20:13
yeah. Right. Yeah. Okay. And also with money. Well, of course it helps. But then still, we have to work for our money they don’t. So scarcity is not really on top of everything.
Yeah. Okay. And so quite a lot of researchers by now have attempted to train children to improve their advertising literacy to improve their ability to understand what advertisers are doing when they put commercials on the TV. And so I’m curious, can this kind of training, reduce the effect of children’s exposure to television advertising, because I know that’s your focus, and then we’re going to talk about other forms of advertising in a minute, and how much they have this desire for products that are advertised
Dr. Rozendaal 20:59
Yeah. I believe that training, advertising education that’s focusing on increasing children’s understanding of advertising and durability to recognize it and maybe even to install more critical attitudes that they are, they can be effective in increasing the knowledge, the understanding and the critic attitudes. But it’s that’s not to say that these increased levels of understanding and more critical attitudes will also change the influence process. So what the literature shows, and I did many studies on that, and also, many of my colleagues in Europe but also in the US, they try to find the link between advertising literacy and advertising effectiveness. So not only by increasing the literacy through advertising education, but also by compare and natural differences between children in advertising literacy. And what we see there is that we find It’s really hard to find a link there. So increased levels of advertising literacy do not decrease children’s susceptibility to advertising effects necessarily well. When you start to think about it, it’s not that strange, because we know from many other fields, for example, healthy eating, and also other types of health, healthy behaviors that increasing knowledge and increasing attitudes toward a kind of behavior. In this case, then well defending yourself against the effects of advertising. So by focusing on increasing the knowledge and the awareness, that doesn’t change behavior, right, so there are other things needed here. And especially with children, if you start to think about it, children have to activate their knowledge well being exposed to really interesting, appealing advertisement. It’s a difficult process for them. Huh, in their brains are still developing the prefrontal cortex. That’s the part of the brain that regulates all their thoughts, emotions and actions. This is really a part of that’s highly well in mature, so to say in children. So the process of using knowledge that they’ve stored in mind to become more critical or skeptical towards the things they really like, is a highly difficult process and really calls for more self-regulation. So what I believe is that what’s really needed for advertising education is not only to focus on increasing awareness of advertising and understanding, and even skeptical attitudes, but also focusing on providing children with more self-control or helping them to develop more self-control, since I believe that’s what’s needed here.
Okay, I just want to pull apart A couple of the things that you said there, I definitely read the literature on the effectiveness of this kinds of training. And one study that was fairly recent, again, found the cognitive training, the, you know, what is advertising? How do you recognize advertising and these kinds of things that was actually effective in reducing purchase requests for the advertised product. But it was kind of moderated by children’s general liking of advertising. So if the children liked advertising, it was the result was less likely to be seen, if they didn’t, it was more likely to be seen. And when you actually look at the results of this graphed out, the researcher had it on a scale of one to five, where five is, you know, still a lot of purchase requests, and one is not many. And we’re talking about a decrease from three and a quarter to two and a half. So it’s not like you’re going from the kids asking all the time for something and all of a sudden, the parent is thinking what’s going on my I’m not being asked for anything all the time. This is something that the parent might not even perceptually notice the difference between three and a quarter and two and a half requests. So the difference is that can be found in the Research are not necessarily ones that are meaningful in real life. And I also wanted to just point out something that you said and make sure that it comes through loud and clear, which is this difference between possessing conceptual knowledge about advertising. And so this might be a parent or a teacher or a researcher saying this is what advertising is, this is how you recognize it. This is what you should do when you come across it. And the ability to use that information at the precise moment when you’re confronted with a cute character and a cool movie that everybody else is watching, and it happens to be a chipmunk who’s diving into a pool of cheese puffs or whatever happens in these movies, and the executive function skills, the emotion regulation skills that we’re asking children to draw on, to put this knowledge that they have into practice. I mean, it’s barely even there. I mean, parents know this, you ask your child to do something and they can’t help themselves. They just keep doing it because they don’t have the skills to stop doing it. So why do we continue to train children in this way, and Are there more effective ways that we should be starting to investigate in terms of improving advertising literacy?
Dr. Rozendaal 26:06
Yeah, well, I think there are two reasons why we are still focusing on increasing knowledge first, it’s still really important of course. So without the awareness and without the understanding, no critical processing will happen. So it is still important and to the second reason for it is that this is the most easy thing to do. Right. So the whole school system is focused on increasing knowledge. So we know how to do it and then we know how to train. So training children to regulate their emotions, to train their self control is far more difficult. So I think this is one of the reasons why we still see the focus on increasing children’s conceptual advertising literacy, and while other ways of doing it so other ways of educating children is for example, By learning from mindfulness techniques, so this could be one of the things that you could do to help children become more aware of the fact that they are actually affected by their own emotional responses, right? So many children are not even aware that they asked for a product, because there are some emotional responses triggers somewhere in their body. And that those emotional responses actually make them ask for the product or cry for the product or screen for the right. So this awareness is actually needed first for them to change it. And then still, when you are working with really young children like the preschoolers, it’s actually the question of, can we really increase their emotional regulation? I’m not really sure if you go through the literature. This is just a phase in which the regulation of emotions is difficult for them. And it’s also not really trainable. But it when children start to get a bit older, so especially around the age of eight, and from my own research, actually, then you can talk easily to them about emotions, emotional reactions, and how those emotional reactions influenced our behavior. And they can become more aware of their own emotions in certain contexts. And also with mindfulness techniques, this is actually not more than attention training, right? It’s just focusing on how you’re feeling on your own feelings on the thoughts that you’re having, and trying not to immediately respond to it. And by doing so, it creates a kind of space kind of mental space in which a certain stopping think responses is possible. So this is actually needed in situations that you just described like, for a child to think about it in Centuries of advertising, it’s actually necessary that the child is able to stop and interrupt the initial emotional process that was triggered by the appealing advertisement. And then starts to think about effect. Okay, but they are trying to influence me, what can I do to defend me myself or to make a reasoned choice? So yeah, so mindfulness techniques are one of the things that I’m, I’m just trying all those mindfulness techniques with the kids in my studies, and to see whether it helps them to become more in control over their own responses.
Okay, so this is very preliminary work right now. Do you have any findings so far? how effective are you saying that it is?
Dr. Rozendaal 29:47
Well, no, it’s just, I’m still experiencing it. So I created a new kind of advertising education material. And indeed, of course, there’s a large part focusing on becoming made more aware of advertising, understanding all the things behind it. But then in the classrooms, I practice with these mindfulness training, things, techniques. And I can see, I can experience that there is something going on in their minds, right? But I’m not. So this is just a first experience and like to do more substantive research on this.
All right, well look out for that then. So we’ve talked a lot about advertising on TV. And I wonder if we could talk about other media. I know there’s advertising and games, there are advert games now where you’re essentially playing an ad. There’s advertising and apps and blogs and branded websites and social media. And a lot of this creates data that’s super useful to marketers, and I’ve seen a lot of very contradictory research findings that children get into these flow states when they’re playing these games where they’re completely focused on The game, and one study will say and this has absolutely no impact on their ability to identify advertising. And then another study will say, Yeah, they have no ability whatsoever to identify advertising when they’re in this state. What do you make of this body of research?
Dr. Rozendaal 31:14
Yeah, I think well, the difficulty with it all research, actually, but especially in the field of advertising literacy is that it’s highly context and individual dependent, right? These games were, of course different. So there might be something in the game that created these different types of processing within the children or maybe two children different from each other, right? So maybe these children were like, higher educated or more experienced, which could explain the different outcomes here. So some studies do find effects others don’t. So what’s actually going on here? I think these are the contextual differences. Interesting. Yeah, the thing with flow is that when children are in flow while playing a game, this could mean that they are totally distracted so that it’s kind of an automatic affective process that’s going on. So they are not actually activating their literacy there enough thinking about the game, in terms of their knowledge about advertising, and about etRa games. But it could also be that this state of flow brings them in a really well in a kind of super awareness in which they are aware of the fact that they are actually playing an advertisement. So these are two different things that can happen, right? So it’s flow in terms of an effective process and an emotional process in which they’re unaware of the fact that it’s advertising or it’s just a Highly cognitive process in which all those advertising schemas, all those knowledge structures that are somewhere in their brain are easily accessible and applicable.
Dr. Rozendaal 33:13
And you alluded to make it really
much more easy, right? No, it doesn’t make it easy to understand. And and, of course, I was thinking about bringing this up to a higher level. And you alluded to the idea that children experience these things very differently. And so my question was, do children need to be protected from advertisements? And I was looking at research on sort of thinking through commentary on how we should think about this and one researcher said that vulnerability is not the property of groups or environments, but as an outcome of personal social and economic and ecological conditions. Thus, whether a vulnerability is experienced depends on the specific hazard, which is the context, the characteristics of the person and the characteristics of the situation. And I thought that definition was really cool because I mean, pretty often in research and in other things, Who’s of life we sort of have this super simplistic view that well, children haven’t been educated the poor children and the children of the non dominant cultures are really vulnerable to this in particular. And this gets us out of that. But on that date sort of takes us to the other extreme and vulnerability is so specific as to be essentially individualised, then how on earth can we develop policies? So it seems as though some researchers are arguing for consulting children in developing regulations, but that requires children express themselves in ways that adults define and interpret and that’s problematic, too. So I’m just curious as to your sort of overarching view on how we should view children in relation to advertising.
Dr. Rozendaal 34:41
So I think we, for example, one of the individual characteristics that might differ between children is their level of scepticism. And so you mentioned one of the studies in which for the highly sceptical children that pulls up to advertising literacy could decrease their requests requests to their parent For the products, so but these children may be in another situation with another advertised brand other type of advertising could react very differently. So maybe in this situation, they were highly sceptical, and therefore they were highly motivated to defend themselves. But in other situations, these sceptical processes might not be activated, and then they could be highly susceptible to advertising. So based on all these different individual differences, and also contextual situations, it’s really difficult to create advertising regulations, specifically focusing on children. Mm hmm.
Yeah. And I want to talk through some things that people have proposed in terms of regulations and potential regulations. But before we get there, I just want to acknowledge that we sort of seem to vacillate between this view that either children are these sort of people who create knowledge and don’t take what advertises At face value, or they’re super helpless, and we need to protect them. And so just to look at some of the research on that there was a doctoral thesis that was done in 2018. That was talking about how children’s peers are really influential in transferring advertising related cognitions or thoughts and also attitudes. And studies that are looking at individual children are probably missing this. And then other studies have looked and found that children use their knowledge of ads themselves, have I seen an ad and what was it like and they’re using these to gain group access and fit in and establish group routines and rituals and metaphors. And they use the knowledge of the ad as well as the actual objects that are advertised to negotiate their place in a social hierarchy through showing an item like whether your iPhone is the latest generation or whether it’s three generations back and that has, that sends a message to your peers. And you can also have a super detailed discussion about the features and the price and the availability of these products. And that shows knowledge that you have that is valued in that social context. And, of course that goes back to Dr. Allison pews research on. And she studies how even super young children in a preschool type aftercare environment are doing this as well. And so I think there seems to be this implicit tacit layer of knowledge that children have where they don’t necessarily talk about consumption. But there are rules about what you’re supposed to know about products and even about the ads themselves and how you’re supposed to discuss what you have. And what happens if you overstep these unspoken boundaries as well, because obviously bragging about having the latest iPhone is not cool, but you can can you can kind of show it and, and be perceived as cool. So I’m curious about whether you see children as these sort of helpless victims of corporate greed who must be protected or are they savvy consumers of knowledge, or is it somewhere in between, or does it vary by children or how do you see that?
Dr. Rozendaal 37:54
Yeah, I think that they are about right. Sometimes they’re really like victims and In other situations, they are just not helpless at all. But this makes it also really difficult, since it just depends on the situation on the type of brand on the type of advertising. And so the question is actually, yeah, how can we create a kind of regulation that takes into account these both sides instead of just one side? Mm hmm. And can we combine both sides? So for example, when you look at all those integrated types of advertising and also influencer marketing on YouTube and Instagram, and which, of course, creates this social pressure of having all those brands, which makes you just as popular as the influencer. With this, it’s it’s one of the steps that could be done to protect children is to make sponsorship disclosures a must do for influencers right? So that they are just really transparent about effects that they created this video because they were being paid by certain brands. And that’s not to say that this is something that will stop the video from being persuasive and that it will definitely make children less susceptible but it actually makes the whole thing more fair. So it increases the ethics of creating these kind of videos and integrated types of advertising. But on the other hand, I think we really have to empower children through a traditional education programmes in schools, and also by parental mediation practices by parents. And it we really not only provide them with the awareness and analogy we discussed it quite a lot already but also really motivate children. So okay, why is really important for you to evaluate these commercial media messages. critically, and also by creating awareness of the why behind their craving for all those products and brands. So making them more aware of the fact that it is because of the brand symbolism because of the fact that all the other kids in school also have these kind of brands, that this creates a certain emotional pressure for them, to also want to have it and to want to buy it, it actually starts providing them with a little bit more self control. So these are the first steps in providing them with more self control of making their own decisions, instead of us being automatically influenced emotionally, non consciously, by the commercial messages.
Yeah. And you mentioned identifying commercials there. And I imagine parents are thinking, Well, that seems to be sort of a no brainer to put some kind of warning sign or something on a commercial so that children can know this is a Commercial. And I just wanted to mention a couple of studies that I found on this warnings may lead to an increase in liking of the brand where the child already feel positively about the brand. So And on the flip side of that, even children who feel that they’ve been informed about the presence of advertising are less likely to feel manipulated. And then because they feel the brand has warned me that this is an ad. They’re more prone to tolerate or even appreciate ads. So even something as simple as sticking a warning sign on something which we think should be an obvious thing to do is actually when you look at Children’s reactions to it not at all up. Yes.
Dr. Rozendaal 41:38
Yeah, yeah, through. So this is actually the side effect of becoming more ethical. So becoming more transparent. Yeah. So especially for the young children since their defence mechanisms, their critical defence mechanisms are not that well develop it, then a disclosure can just have the opposite effect. So disclosure definitely increases brand awareness. So many studies have shown that also with eye tracking, like, Okay, if there’s a disclosure that says, hey, this video contains advertising for Nike, for example, and Suddenly our eyes are more focused on the Nike. So it’s creating more brand awareness. And especially for the younger children, they think, oh, okay, cool. So this is Nike, I can buy Nikes This is nice. So I like to video so I like Nike. So this is just a process that’s going on and it doesn’t really trigger their their critical defence and coping mechanisms. So this is something that that is trainable. So helping children Okay, what can you actually do? What are those critical coping mechanisms? And but this this needs practice, right and it also needs to become a bit more easy for them to do. Since like I said, this is especially for the younger children, it’s a difficult process. It requires a lot of mental resources, a lot of thinking, and this is something that they are not really good at yet. But there are different strategies like creating implementation intentions don’t know where you heard about No. And just so it’s a kind of strategy that you you create a certain if then plan. So for example, you say, Okay, if I see advertising, or if I see a warning that says hey, this is advertising in I well, and then you can fill out a certain coping strategy and together with the child is also really young children. It is strategy with children of seven years old, seven, eight years old. You can let them think of a way they want to react to Advertising messages. So for example, those younger children, they just come up with things like then I look away or then I click it away or something like that. Really easy for them to conduct. And then they create their simple if then plan so if I see advertising, then I look away or then I click it away. So then you can make that the coping mechanisms more easy for them. And when you well it needs some practice of course, so they need to practice this if then plan and then over time, it can become a new kind of habit.
Okay, so you’re very interested in this because you’re, you’re still speaking about supporting in children’s individual capabilities. You’re not talking about banning advertising and Sweden has banned all advertising for children up to age 12. The UK has banned advertising of foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat in and around TV programmes that are geared towards children. Product placement in programmes directed towards minors is banned in the EU. Do you think banning is effective? Or should we focus our energies on talking to our children and helping them to develop more individualised capabilities here?
Dr. Rozendaal 45:14
Yeah. Well, I think I don’t know about banning, I think it’s a highly complex thing. And I didn’t come across any convincing research that showed positive effects of event. So even in Sweden, of course, it’s highly difficult to study again. So that’s difficult. But I think that many of the problems that are discussed in the context of children advertising are still there when advertising is banned. Since a ban on advertising is really, really difficult to implement, and especially with the internet, advertising is all around us and it’s all around children. So I do Believe that banning advertising for unhealthy products is a good thing, since unhealthy products are not a good thing for children. But I’m not totally convinced of the fact that this is also highly effective in changing their healthy diets or improved diets. There’s more to that, right. There are more factors that impact the eating behaviour of teal and then advertising alone. But yeah, so I’d like to talk from the research facts and the research results. And since Yeah, since then, bends are such a difficult thing to study. And also the results do not really show convincing evidence of the effectiveness. I find it really hard to decide whether I’m pro or con, just a neutral, so. Okay,
all right. Well, thank you for sharing that with us. And so I’m thinking through Okay, bringing Mr. Conclusion in What kind of things can parents do? And you’ve mentioned a few things in this interview. We’ve talked about instilling a general scepticism towards advertising. You’ve talked about the IF THEN plans if I see advertising, then I’m going to. I know there was one study that found that it looked at teachers and what they were teaching about advertising literacy in schools and for traditional TV media. And it turned out that the more teachers knew about this topic and talked about it in class, the less children reflected on the appropriateness of advertising and and so the researchers are thinking, Okay, maybe this super strong, didactic teaching approach might not encourage critical thinking, which makes sense from what we know about learning. And so I’m just thinking through Okay, you as a parent of a five year old, what tools are you equipping your son with? And what tools should we be equipping our children with, to help them cope in this world and make them empowered consumers in this world?
Dr. Rozendaal 48:00
Yeah, well, okay, so he’s five years old, right? So what I try to do is just ask questions, and just ask them. Okay, what do you think about this? What What is it? What you’re looking at? What do you think about it? Why do you think about his indigenous weight? So for him, of course, it’s still pretty difficult to answer all those questions, but it just it triggers what it does, it triggers a kind of rational process. And what I know from the literature is that this kind of processes are necessary for children to think, Okay, what am I actually looking at? What am I playing? What is it here, so, it’s just a trigger to start the reflection. And that’s also what I found in one of my other studies, it was with eight to 12 years old, and you can see a great difference. Of course, they’re they’re much better able to critically reflect that in that study. In one group, I constantly asked the children when they were watching television commercials, what are you thinking right now. So I triggered the critical evaluative process. And with the other group of children, I didn’t ask him anything about it. And you could see that the whole process was different. So afterwards, those children were much more critical to watch the advertisements, they were far better able to think about the commercial intentions of it. So children do have a lot of knowledge and certain attitudes stored in the back of their minds, but it needs to get activated. And by asking questions of what they’re doing, and what they’re seeing what they think about it, you can trigger those structures, which can help to make them more critical about it. So I think that that’s one of the things I would advise parents to do.
Okay, and of course, the super helpful thing about that is it doesn’t require us to have an amazingly in depth, understand Of how advertising works. Know that all we need to do is ask questions and be curious about what our child is thinking and guide them through a discussion on that. We don’t have to teach them 30% of children after watching this commercial will do whatever.
Dr. Rozendaal 50:16
So that’s also I guess that was what was going on in the study you just mentioned with the teacher or was really not knowledgeable. I think what happened there was that the teacher just started to argue about all the things he knew now what he wanted the children to do. And that’s also something that we as parents do quite often right. So we do okay, we tasting so it’s really important for you to be critical, critical about it, because it’s not always true what they’re telling us it’s not it might not be healthy, and the children are thinking yeah, right. So this is what my mom’s telling me or this is what my teachers telling me. I don’t want to listen to it. So they are just highly resistant towards all those types of things. information. So when you ask questions to them and ask them for their own opinion, then it comes from insights. So it triggers their intrinsic motivation to create their own opinions. And then that’s the difference. So it’s not up to us to tell them what to do, but to help them to find out what they should do.
Awesome. What an empowering message to end on. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today and sharing all of your research and thoughts with us.
Dr. Rozendaal 51:29
So all of the references for today’s episode can be found at yourparentingmojo.com/advertising. Thanks for joining us for this episode of Your Parenting Mojo. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show at yourparentingmojo.com to receive new episode notifications and the FREE Guide to 7 Parenting Myths That We Can Leave Behind and join the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group for more respectful research based ideas to help kids thrive and make parenting easier for you. I’ll see you next time on Your Parenting Mojo.
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About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.