Superbowl commercial bingo – a critical thinking game

SuperbowlBingo_featuredimageThis Sunday, make watching the big game a teachable moment for your kids. Encourage them to watch the commercials more closely and critically than they usually do, and to identify ways that the advertisers try to get their attention.

Download this free 4-pack of bingo cards. Each card has a unique mix of 25 squares, which are individual elements they might see in a commercial. Two examples are: “Features a celebrity” and “Makes unbelievable claims about a product.” They’re parent-approved as appropriate for kids age 10 and older.

As they watch the game, kids can draw an X over a square when they see a commercial that matches the element in it. Prizes can be given for a row and/or a ‘blackout’ when the entire card is filled in. Parents or teachers can use this game as a conversation starter to get kids talking about what they saw in the commercials. For suggestions, download the Parent/Educator Guide.




A father balances cultural literacy with TV-free kids

Matt grew up watching a fair amount of television: about an hour on an average day. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing, in his opinion.

He, his wife Natalya, and their three children watch so little TV that, during a recent vacation, the children assumed the set in the house they rented didn’t work because they never saw it turned on.

A bookshelf with children's books in English and Russian

The media of choice for Matt and Natalya’s three children

Matt and Natalya were not big TV watchers even before they became parents.

“We never had a TV,” he said. “But we did consciously decide not to go and buy one when our kids got old enough to watch TV. We were a bit afraid of using it as a hypnosis device/babysitter.”

Their home living room has no television set, but shelves and shelves of books in English and Russian, which is Natalya’s native tongue. Matt and his wife surround their children, ages 8, 4, and 2, with reading material in both languages.

“The kids read tons of books, we’ve always had a lot of books around the house,” Matt said.  “We encourage the kids to use books as distractions on car rides and stuff. We encourage them to read as much as they can.”

They also listen to the radio quite a bit at home, and they let the children watch videos online from time to time.

“It’s sort of a special thing,” Matt said. “Like right before bed or a reward for something.”

He added that the children don’t really browse the Internet at all, they only watch the videos their parents select for them.

Matt wants Anya, age 8, to develop reading literacy first, so she can “extract useful information from text before we let her loose on the Internet.”

Anya is beginning to choose non-fiction books at the library, but her father realizes that there are many things one doesn’t learn about as easily from books.

“I learned a lot about the outside world by watching TV,” Matt said. “Reading books doesn’t show you how people dress, or what other cities look like.”

He worries that, some day, the children may not understand jokes made by their peers, or references to pop culture.

“If you don’t get the jokes and humor,” he said, “it can be a barrier to making friends.”

Another issue Matt foresees in his children’s limited exposure to screens is their capacity for media literacy. He hopes that he and his wife will be able to help the children develop a skeptical response to messages in media, but he realizes that some television viewing may be necessary to accomplish that.

“We’ll gradually expose them to these things,” he said. “Probably when they’re a little older and we feel they have a better sense of judgment, and are more questioning in general of things that people tell them.”


How to watch a food commercial with your child

How to watch a food commercial with your childChildren ages 2 – 7 see an average of 12 food ads per day, or 4,400 in a year. Older children (8 – 12) see almost double that amount. Nearly half of all ads shown during children’s programming are for food. These are figures from a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which reports that “34% [of these ads] are for candy and snacks, 28% are for cereal, and 10% are for fast food.”

As parents already know, these ads work. Children request advertised food more often, and they even preferred the taste of branded food in an experiment that used identical foods, one sample with a fast food label and one without.

Even with the most rigorous monitoring of media content, kids are bound to see food ads sooner or later. How can parents help their children view these ads critically?

Watch the ads together, and talk about them. The simple act of ‘co-viewing’ and talking about the ads encourages children to engage with the ads rather than passively ‘consume’ them. So what should you say? Here are some suggestions to get a conversation started.

Ask how the ads make the food look appealing. Children might need some prompting on this question, depending on their age. If it’s an animated ad, a cereal might be made to look ‘magical,’ as it can fly or sparkle. In an ad for Lunchables, the child eating the product might be portrayed as especially popular among peers. In a fast food ad, everyone might be shown having a good time and laughing. Encourage children to identify ways the ads make the food look ‘cool.’

Ask how the food looks in real life. This is especially useful with regard to fast food ads, which feature styled food that is wearing a lot of ‘makeup.’ If the child has ever ordered that food in a restaurant, s/he can see that it doesn’t look the same as it does in the ad. Encourage children to compare the two, as it helps them recognize that commercials are not necessarily realistic.

Ask what’s in the food. This is an ongoing question, one that is best asked later on in the kitchen, or even the grocery store. Read nutrition labels for advertised foods with children, and help them understand what’s in it.

The key to watching food commercials with children is to encourage them to ask questions, rather than giving them a ‘lecture’ or telling them what’s good or bad. When you encourage them to view an ad critically, you’re helping them to develop a skill they can apply to other ads in the future.


How to watch a beer commercial with your child

How to watch a beer commercial with your childIt’s no secret that many kids see ads for alcohol – on TV, online, in magazines, and on billboards. One 2006 study suggests that the typical child sees about 23 alcohol ads per month. And the ads work; a study published the next year found that adolescents who saw alcohol ads were 50 percent more likely to be consuming alcohol a year later.

An obvious way to deal with this is not to let them see alcohol advertising. But this is mighty difficult to do, since many prime-time shows and cable networks popular with youth and adolescents show alcohol advertising. So how should parents handle their children’s exposure?

Watch it with them, and talk about it. According to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, parental guidance had a positive impact on a number of outcomes among young people age 9 – 17. So what should you say?

Ask them what they like about the ads. Be specific. Help them identify aspects of the commercial – attractive people, fun, music, bright colors, etc. – that attracts their attention.

Ask them what the ad is supposed to do, and who is supposed to see it. This helps them understand the purpose of advertising, which isn’t always clear to younger children. The second part helps them understand that ads target specific groups of people, and that they themselves might be in that group.

Ask them if they think the ads are realistic. This encourages kids to engage rationally with the commercial, and a rational, cognitive response can help counter the “I like it, it looks cool” reaction. Older kids might have heard about some of the negative consequences of overconsumption, and they might recognize that such things are left out of the ads.

The key is to engage kids and ask them questions about the ad, rather than merely telling them what you think about it. Asking questions encourages them to think critically about such media messages, and may help them make better decisions in the years to come.

Have you had any conversations with your kids about alcohol advertising?

(sources: E.W. Austin, M.-J. Chen, and J. W. Grube. (2006). How does alcohol advertising influence underage drinking? The role of desirability, identification and skepticism. Journal of Adolescent Health 38: 376–384;