I took a class in high school that taught media literacy and it has been one of the few learning experiences in high that really stuck with me. I'd like my boy to learn from the beginning, when he's just starting to see advertising, how to read and understand how advertisers are trying to manipulate him.

We already live in a household without much advertising (get TV from Netflix so there are no commercials, avoid websites with ads, etc) so it's jarring when we leave our house and are bombarded with billboards, buses wrapped with ads, and flying banners, and the ads on the TVs in airports.

The obvious thing would be to talk about the ads when we see them and explain to him what they are trying to do. Are there are formal techniques for teaching media literacy to young children? Does a household without advertising make it better or worse for a child to understand what they are seeing?

3 Answers 3


To answer your last question, I think that it does make it harder to teach about things that you actively exclude from your house.

What is it that you want to teach your children? Do you want them to patently hate any and all forms of advertisement? Or do you want them to develop the ability to understand what they are and why they say what they say?

We've looked at some of the ideas at PBS Kids which shows some interesting things about ads for kids.

In our house (we watch netflix but do watch normal broadcast tv as well) we talk about what the ad is selling and if we think it is a good thing to buy or if "they are just trying to trick us". By doing this we have already given our 5 year old a bit of a skeptical attitude about seeing things being sold on tv and in catalogs.

  • For the most part I want him to learn how to understand advertising so he won't easily be manipulated by it (like I was as a child).
    – guidoism
    Commented Nov 27, 2011 at 23:47
  • Something else I would wonder about (and you comment reinforces it) is why you feel so strongly against ads. How do you feel that you were manipulated as a child and how has that effected you as an adult? Personally, I don't mind ads, yes they are loud and sometimes irritating, but other times they are amusing and entertaining. I am just curious about your (and others) strong objection and aversion to advertisements.
    – Chris M
    Commented Nov 28, 2011 at 13:52
  • 1
    @ChrisM: While I can't speak to the OP's motivation, I think it's a feeling that they're just bloody everywhere and unescapable, and everything feels like it's got a hook. Incidentally, what I do with my kids is just let them know that just about everything they see is trying to make them want something they doesn't have.
    – afrazier
    Commented Nov 28, 2011 at 19:58

One thing you could do is schedule "Ad Time", a short period of the day, where you sit down with him and go through some Youtube or Online Ads, talking about the things he learned in class.

Sort of a fun play-time activity, which enhances the artificiality of the adverts (so it's not like watching TV and passively absorbing them), is in an environment you can control, and prepares him for the "real world" of heavy advertising in all areas of life.

That way, instead of being jarring when you step out into AdWorld, he sees it as just a world of the game he plays with his dad.

Incidentally, if turning this into a game works, Jane McGonigal would probably be fascinated.

  • 1
    "Ad Time" sounded a bit weird at first, but I like your point about showcasing how artificial advertisements can be. Looking at an ad critically leaves you with a totally different impression than watching in passively.
    – Sarato
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 3:23

I would start introducing ads into your home slowly. Perhaps it is radio ads that come on while you are in the car at first for example. Discuss the ads as you hear them. Stress first that it is the job of the advertiser to make you want to buy/experience something. When your child hears an ad that peaks her interest have her try to figure out what about the add intrigued her. Talk about it together. Also, once in awhile give her a little bit to spend and let her spend on something she wants that is completely frivolous. Chances are she won't like it much not much later and you guys can analyze that too. The ad worked! But did it really make her happy? . . .

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