Those Super Bowl ads and your kids: What to consider

January 29
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Are you — and your kids — ready for some football? Or at least those commercials?

With Super Bowl XLVIII this Sunday, family and friends will gather to watch the big game. These days, the commercials that air during the Super Bowl seem to almost be on the same playing field as the big game itself. Millions of dollars go into these commercials as brands vie for air time and the title of most-talked-about the next day.

As adults, we are able to take the ads for what they are. But what about our kids? How do the commercials translate in their eyes? Children and teenagers are still learning about the world in which they live, and like it or not, advertising really does influence how they see the world and their understanding of how it operates.

Research has shown that viewing advertising may influence the behavior of our youth. One example is ads related to drinking. Studies have shown that teens who drink are more likely to have seen drinking-related advertisements. Perhaps not so surprisingly, ads for alcoholic beverages are 2.4 times higher during sporting events than regular programming. Drinking is not the only unsavory behavior depicted in some commercials. Sexualized behavior and violence are usually prominently displayed. And it’s enough to make parents worry. While there will definitely be some ads that are very appropriate for kids, it’s important to be aware of the not so good ones and have a plan to address them.

So, what’s a parent to do? Here are a few recommendations:

  1. Watch the commercials with your child. It’s important to know what they saw. With Super Bowl commercials, the impact lasts long after the game. Media outlets will be discussing ads for weeks following the game, so know what your kids are watching.
  2. Talk about the ads. Commercials might show behaviors or situations that we don’t agree with or want our kids to participate in. Talk with your kids about this. If you see something during an ad that you disagree with, mention it. But …
  3. Avoid lecturing. Children, teens in particular, have a hard time listening when parents “lecture.” If you are talking about something you disagree with, state your case clearly and let your child/teen have a chance to respond. Lecturing them about the “evils” of any given behavior is a sure way for them to ignore you.
  4. Let them ask questions. In addition to stating your case, let your child/teen ask any questions he/she might have about what they saw or experienced. This will let you know where your child is with respect to different topics. It will also keep the lines of communication open. And finally …
  5. Answer the questions. Provide your child/teen with honest, age-appropriate information when they ask for it. You don’t have to spill the beans about everything you have done in your own life, but if your child/teen is asking it’s important to respond to them as best you can.

Not just on Super Bowl Sunday, but throughout the year, advertisements, movies, TV shows, and other media should be watched as a family with caution, but they shouldn’t make parents nervous. They present an opportunity to talk openly about your family’s values.

 

Heather Yardley is a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. She has a special interest in working with youth with type 1 diabetes and their families as well as youth with obsessive compulsive disorder. Dr. Yardley is on the board of the Society of Pediatric Psychology.

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