Impact of advertisements on children

By Abdirahman Mohamed Idris Ahmed

Advertisement is a form of communication intended to persuade its viewers, readers or listeners to take some action. It usually includes the name of a product or service and how that product or service could benefit the consumer, to persuade potential customers to purchase or to consume that particular brand. Advertisers have special advertisements which are directed only for children, as it is known children before reaching 12 years old are very easy to convince and persuade due to the fact that at that age children will not be developing their critical thinking yet which make them easy targets to advertisers.

Studies have indicated that a child might be exposed to 40,000 advertisements yearly. There are two sides of looking at the advertisements which are directed at the children. Some argue that children are critical consumers who would be aware of the undesirable impact of the advertising and manage to overcome it. Besides that they would get more information of the products which concern them through the advertising. On the other hand, beliefs, values and morals could be changed by the effect of advertising. Furthermore, in supporting their arguments, they said that children are not experienced enough to think critically like the adults, therefore they would believe anything that comes in the advertisement as if it is true. In addition, they do not have the necessary cognitive skills to protect themselves against the attractive and cleverly put message.

Islam is a religion of principles, superb moralities and precious norms. Islam shows consideration to its followers and imposes on them what is best for them all. Islam encourages the principal of fairness in everyday dealings. This principal should appear in the advertisements by putting away exaggeration and manipulation of the reality of the products. Distorting of the reality to mislead the customers to buy the products through advertisement is prohibited in Islam because that is considered a lie and according to Islam lying is a huge sin.

With regards to this the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessing be upon his soul) passed by a pile of food. He put his fingers in it and felt wetness. He said: ‘O owner of the food! What is this?’ He replied: ‘It was rained upon O Messenger of Allah.’ He said: ‘Why not put it on top of the food so the people can see it?’ Then he said: ‘Whoever cheats, he is not one of us'”. Unfortunately, the sole concentration on the material gain that advertisements would bring to a company or an organisation has led to a violation of social and ethical principles. For some scholars the best way of doing business is the Islamic way because the consideration of Islam is not the benefit of one party but everybody.

Children get exposed to a lot of advertisements which are directed to them yearly. The inappropriate aspects of advertisements cannot be denied, therefore, it is believed that advertisements which are directed towards children could affect their health, mind and relationship with their parents.

To begin with, advertisement can have a huge impact on children’s choices of what to consume. According to a study in the US, it was found that watching advertisements on television had an influence on children’s food choices. In the same context, two scientific studies on children’s eating behaviour and the influence of advertisements have reached to the conclusion that advertisements have a dramatic influence on children’s consuming behaviour. Children consumption of soda and fast food showed an increasing pattern after they are exposed to advertisements about them on the television. Companies use different sets of methods to persuade the children to buy a specific type of food or drinks like using well known and liked cartoon characters consuming their products. Placing the advertisement during movies or in video games is also a strategy that is used by fast food, soft drinks and snacks companies. The unhealthy food is more commercialised than the healthy food which means that children are exposed more often to unhealthy food. The unhealthy food is rich of calories, fat and sugary. As said, these ingredients are dangerous for the children’s body because their continuous consumption in high doses could lead to diseases like diabetes, obesity and others.

Children obesity has been linked to fast food advertisements they watch. The issue is that fast food restaurants keep using advertisements to get more children by providing those gifts with the meals. This method makes sure that the kids will come back and buy the meal over and over again to get the toy that comes with it. The issue with fast food and snacks is that they do not consist of good ingredients which are important or helpful for the growth of the children but on contrary, they are full of unhealthy ingredients which will fasten the process of kids becoming obese. The type of food mentioned just now is rich of flavours which would not fulfil the basic need of a child which is the hunger except for a short time. Moreover, after passing a short period of time the kids will become hungry again and they will start looking for another meal. This circle of eating would increase obesity among children but will they like it?

Once children become obese things might seem different to them for children will come to realise that the commercial that was encouraging them to eat in the past is the same one which is valuing the slimness and disliking the overweighting. The children at that point would feel frustrated because they would start thinking that they will not be accepted by others. This would lead some children to avoid eating at all and some would force themselves to vomit immediately after eating, however, either way is harmful. All in all, it appears that advertisements could have influence on children’s decision of what to eat but the consequences of this influence could be unfortunate.

Advertisements have influence on children and they make the kids’ demand expensive products. These products could be of a high cost for their parents and might create a conflict between the children and their parents in case if the parents refuse the demands. Children demand whatever they see on advertisements whether they are about food, toys or even education tools because the advertisers are showing favourite cartoon characters using the products. Due to their immaturity, children would think that all the other kids will have the advertised product therefore they would argue with their parents to buy the product no matter how expensive the product is.

The young age plays a role in the inability of the children to comprehend the goal behind the advertisement; however parents might get into financial problems only to fulfil and meet their children’s needs. A study in the parents and children purchasing conflict has found that the conflict that occurs between parents and children is because of two reasons. Firstly, parents and children differ in terms of perception and level of believability of advertisements and that is due to the age gap between them because the parents and the children are from two different generations. Thus, the years that parents have spent in life make them more experienced than their children. The second reason is that some parents would only provide their kids with important stuff and ignore the unimportant ones to teach their children good purchasing behaviour.

Of course, for children, it is a sign of true love to buy everything they ask for but it would be better for parents to use the word ‘no’ to them between time and another. For some parents, it would be difficult to refuse their children’s demands especially when the kids cry and beg for what they want. Hirt says, “Why do we struggle so to say NO? We don’t want our kids to be mad at us. We don’t want to disappoint them. We don’t want to sit in the blistering storm of their rage.”

It is believed that refusing the continuous purchasing requests of the children would teach them valuable lessons which would be a great help for them in the future. One thing the children will learn is reality. One cannot get everything he wants or ask for. The child would learn how to deal with the frustration that might result from not getting what he or she wants. The conflict between parents and their children happens when the parents refuse to buy what their child is asking for due to their knowing of the purpose of the advertisers. Children surely will be disappointed and upset with their parents if they could not make their wishes come true. Parents would find it difficult to reject their children’s needs but they have to do so because they care about them.

Some advertisements are not good for children because they might have messages which a child cannot interpret very well in their age. Some advertisements have violence, sexual and risky messages which would be inappropriate content for children to watch. Parents should be aware of what the children are watching on television and other media because according to a study by Psychology of Popular Media Culture, they found that the commercials in children channels are not less harming than the commercials in the other channels. Advertisers know that children are not like adults in terms of the believability of what is advertised on the television.

A child would believe that he would gain a special power if he consumed a particular product, whereas the case is different with adults who would not believe of such thing. The children would try to imitate the superhero that comes on the advertisement. This attempt is usually done by children because of their believing of what they see on television and their ability of fantasise events. Some advertisements do advise children to not try what they are watching at home but this would not be of much help because the curiosity of the children would hide the ‘do no’t and leave the rest which is ‘try this at home’. For example, an advertisement of a baby driving a car would encourage other kids who are in their sixth or seventh age to do that as well as long as a baby could do it and then when they do try it is when disasters happen.

Opree, Buijzen and Valkenburg did a study about the effect of materialism on life satisfaction of children. The result of the study showed that advertisements could lead children to materialism which means that they would value acquiring things and considering that as ways of making them satisfied and happy. It was declared by many authors that children who are dissatisfied with their lives and who spend a considerable time viewing TV ads would be more susceptible to materialism. The reason they came up with, those advertisements would make children believe that buying advertised products would ensure them happiness. However researches found that the happiness and satisfaction which would result from having the advertised product will be temporarily. They added that their feelings would change to the opposite as they grow older.

The children can be controlled by the ideas and ways of life that the advertisements are portraying on the media screen. Projeto and his team described the way advertising is persuading children to do exactly as the advertisements show. The constant bombardment to children, of the adult voice of advertising dictates at every moment how one should be, what one should have and how one should look like to be socially accepted. In this way, little by little, children begin to define themselves by what they have and no longer by whom they are, immersing themselves in compulsive consumerism. This creates a void inside, which a child attempts to fill with products and services, generally superfluous.

Advertisements can have physical and psychological effects on children. Furthermore, conflicts between children and their parents might occur when parents refuse to meet their children’s demands. Indeed, parents don’t like to see how advertisements are controlling their children. Advertisements that are targeting young children should be banned for the children to be provided a sufficient time to grow up mentally enough to be able to choose what is good for them.

It is suggested that providing good advertisements which would benefit the children is better than struggling in banning the advertisements from children or banning the children from the advertisements because in today’s advancement of technology, preventing children from reaching advertisements is quite impossible.***

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