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The Behavior of Children Exposed to Advertisements

by Sara Ipatenco

Most people find television commercials annoying, but a necessary evil when it comes to watching their favorite programs. While many adults tend to tune out when the commercials come on, children are highly susceptible to advertisements. In fact, watching certain types of ads can negatively influence your child's behavior, according to the journal "Pediatrics."

Eating Behaviors

Commercials are very good at convincing children that certain foods, such as soda and sugary breakfast cereals, are tasty. The makers of these commercials use cartoon characters and other kid-friendly images to lure children into watching the advertisement and then begging their parents for the foods they see. According to a 2009 article published in "Health Psychology," food advertising geared toward children is the leading cause of unhealthy eating habits. The same article notes that children see an average of 15 advertisements for food each day and 98 percent of the ads are for foods high in fat, sugar or sodium. Children who are exposed to these advertisements often convince their parents to buy them the foods, which can lead to unhealthy calorie, fat, sugar and sodium consumption. Over time, that can cause weight gain and obesity.

Smoking and Other Risky Behaviors

Exposure to images of cigarette smoking increases the risk that a child will end up smoking herself, according to a 2006 article published in "Pediatrics." In fact, tobacco advertising can be more influential to a child than seeing peers smoke, as well as having a parent who teaches his child not to smoke. The same study found that children who see prescription drug commercials are more likely to ask their doctor for a pill to cure what ails them. Images depicting sexual-type behaviors, including the suggestion of intercourse, have been linked to children engaging in sexual experimentation at an early age. However, the article notes that advertising birth control in particular does not increase the risk of early sexual activity. Instead, it's images that are sexual in nature that increase that behavior.

Materialism and Consumerism

Children see 40,000 advertisements a year, according to the American Psychological Association. The ads are often for toys and other things that interest kids, and the items are presented in an attractive and compelling way, which makes children immediately want to have them. Children don't understand that what they're seeing on television is far from the way the toys and other items actually look and work. However, seeing such interesting images builds an attitude of materialism. It influences consumerism among children, as well, because they can often wear their parents down enough so they're convinced to buy the items for them.

Self-Image and Confidence

Seeing advertisements can influence childhood behavior associated with self-esteem and confidence. A 2010 article in the "Journal of Consumer Research" reports that seeing images of beauty products, such as face creams and makeup, can influence how a child feels about herself. This is particularly true for teens. The ads usually portray highly attractive people surrounded by friends and having fun, which can cause a child to feel that she isn't pretty or popular enough. A 2009 article, also published in the "Journal of Consumer Research," found that when images of thin people were included in advertisements, many people, including children, began to feel that their body size and appearance wasn't attractive. This can cause children, especially teens, to go to great, and perhaps dangerous, lengths to lose weight trying to look the models they see on TV.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

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