Advertising Aimed at Young Children Online
I had the opportunity to talk with a number of parents over the last few weeks while their children were in the office testing the upcoming version of our math learning adventure games, DreamBox Learning K-2 Math. And as we often hear, many wise parents told me they limit “screen time” for their children. But aside from the fact that kids need to play in other healthy ways, there’s another issue that I’ve become very conscious of: exposing young children to commercial messages in online games, even on so called “learning fun” sites.
While he didn’t watch much TV when he was young, my son loved Disney radio which was constantly promoting Disney shows, so I’d try to raise his consciousness about the difference between the program and the advertising. According to Consumer Reports magazine, it’s a developmental issue: “young children have difficulty distinguishing between advertising and reality in ads, and ads can distort their view of the world.” (There’s a good article about this on the Media Awareness Network site.) That’s why Sweden and Quebec have banned advertising aimed at pre-teen kids.
It’s astonishing how many entertainment and learning game sites there are for kids as young as 2 or 3 – even for babies! There are countless ad-supported sites that offer educational games and fun activities. On these sites parents can at easily point out the difference between the links in the “Ads by Google” sidebar and the activity links.
Determining the Serious Learning Games from the Advertisements
But it’s getting harder to distinguish between the ad and the content. Advertisers are developing online programming to promote their products outside of traditional advertising formats. Teletubbies, Lego, and hundreds of other products aimed at young children are building online activity sites as a way to promote their brand. Nick Jr. has been very successful building the Nickelodeon brand and viewership through “learning games” and online activities with its TV characters like Dora and Blues Clues. Even the respected education brand PBS has jumped on the bandwagon with PBS Kids, promoting Barney and other shows.
Soon, DreamBox will offer serious math learning in the form of online adventure games for kids as young as kindergarten. So we’re not unbiased as we look at other products that have educational value. But on another level, we’re passionate about giving parents an effective way to help their kids learn math that’s just as fun, without the consumerism promoted in so many of these choices.