Our kids are bombarded 24/7 with advertising. Marketers aren't dumb, they are doing this for a reason. They know that children's brains are continually developing new neural connections, especially related to emotion, so that if they embed their slogan or logo into your child's mind now, it will forever be a happy memory for them. And they know that children have limited experience of the world, making them especially vulnerable to advertising methods such as appeals to popularity, celebrity endorsements, and unbelievable claims. This marketing concerns everything which kids consume, which naturally also involves foods.
Right now, we are facing an obesity crisis, and children are especially affected. So it should come as no surprise that advertisers have been targeting our kids for years, persuading them that certain foods are cool, fun, and delicious, just by virtue of the name of the brand. Which means children are eating processed foods and fast foods whenever they can. Which is causing rocketing levels of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cavities, etc., in children. And we want to avoid letting our kids be affected by this, to make sure they lead long and healthy lives.
When our kids are very young the best thing we can do is just keep them away from food marketing. Choose television channels and streaming services which do not advertise food during children's shows. Keep the TV off at friends' houses or in hotels. Stay away from places where promotional mascots and posters are abundant. It's not about completely avoiding marketing, which is impossible. It's about minimizing the presence of marketing in your kid's life.
But our older children have a lot more agency, and will not just follow in our footsteps when we minimize exposure to advertising. And this defiance is a good thing, because it is exactly what our kids need to use against marketing. Around the age when they start seeking out and consuming advertisements is when we need to sit down and talk to them about how marketing works. They may not be very open to this conversation, so it will be easier if you have already talked about some of the concepts before their rebelliousness began.
We need to make sure to address our kids as though they were very uninformed adults. This appeals to their desire to be recognized and respected, and makes them more open to listening to us, and not the marketing team for their favorite fast food restaurant.
Talk to them about the difference in profits, and therefore in advertising opportunities and lobbying power, between, for example, an orange farmer and a chocolate bar manufacturer. Make sure that they completely understand that the people whose voices are the loudest are the people with the money, not the people who are right.
Next, begin a fun exercise where you try and label things as good or bad at random. The main focus should be on foods, but you can talk about all sorts of things. This is called playing Devil's Advocate, and it teaches your kid to think like one of these marketing teams, so as to analyze their advertisements better and not take their claims at face value.
Finally, ask your kid to deconstruct advertisements from time to time. Just point out billboards on the street and ask them why they think the marketer chose that picture, color, or phrase. Or send them a video online and ask them whether they believe the claims in it, or what the real evidence says. By getting your child to think creatively and critically about advertising, you are giving them the tools to avoid falling for the mind games which advertisers play.
This may not convince your kid to eat healthy. But at least it will show them what healthy looks like, what healthy does not look like, and not to trust advertising. Which means that, if they want to eat healthy, they have the tools they need to do it.