My family uses TiVo, so we don't come across commercials very often. We're all adept with the forward and play buttons. Even so, the kids occasionally get lazy and see a commercial.

When they first saw commercials these kids could have doubled as a marketer's dream. "Mommy, I want Bendaroos." "Mommy, I need this so I can do that."

It had to stop. I remembered reading a magazine called AdBusters in my twenties. (The magazine is still around and I highly recommend it.) The magazine makes spoofs on other ads, and the modified ads are funny and thought-provoking. I decided to use this as a teaching opportunity.

I hate commercials, and generally I see no value in them. However, they are useful once in a while. They're great teaching tools. Commercials are a great tool to get kids to think critically about psychology, consumerism, and greed.

We started off with a family lecture and training session.(My husband was totally on board with this.) We explained to the kids that once an organization forms its primary goal is generally survival. Some of these organizations, like Humane Societies are great. They have value for us and for the animals. Companies that make chotskies, however, are not great. Their goal is to separate you from your money. They want you to buy their junk, which you'll play with for a while and then throw away. It will end up in a landfill and it's bad for the planet. (We had just watched Wall-E.)

Then, we played a commercial for the kids. What was the commercial trying to sell you? What did they say the product would do for you? Is it realistic that the product can actually provide that?

The kids started thinking about the commercial and figured out what we were after. We went through a couple more commercials and called it a night.

We didn't talk about commercials for a few days, and then we made a trip to Target. They asked to go to the toy aisle. "Sure." We went to the toy aisle. They saw some of the toys they'd seen on commercials. With money burning in their hands they stopped, thought about it, and didn't buy the toy. My daughter told me how the toy was over packaged and my son said he didn't need it.

Wonderful.

But, it gets better. My daughter still wanted Bendaroos, but she wasn't willing to spend her money to buy them in front of me. So, I was thrilled when she got Bendaroos for her birthday. That kid was excited. And then she played with them. It wasn't very long before she told me that they don't work nearly as well as they do on television and she didn't need to buy anymore.

In Summary

1. Explain that companies are after your money.

2. Explain that plastic is bad for the environment and landfills.

3. Go through an advertisement with the kids. Ask them: How does the ad try to grab your attention? What is the ad trying to sell? What is the ad trying to make you think you'll get if you have their product? Is it realistic that the product can do that?

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