My daughter loves to watch Sesame Street. And though she’s under two, and most of the doctors say it’s not a good idea, we let her watch some TV in the morning. And I love Sesame Street–I think it teaches valuable lessons, and credit it with why my daughter is able to identify letters, numbers, and shapes.
But recently I’ve been troubled by the hidden advertising. It’s not that hidden for adults. Basically there’s a little intro with the monster Murray, and then a few ads (for mostly innocuous things, like the Good Egg Project, Earth’s Best baby food, and Beaches Resorts). And then the credits roll and the show comes on. Last week my daughter started singing along to the credits of Sesame Street, and I was thrilled–the Sunny Days song is adorable. But then she started saying the words of the Beaches commercial and I got a little bit upset. Beaches… something something something and making a lifetime of “mem-ries.”
She doesn’t know it’s advertising. In fact, studies show that kids can’t tell the difference between advertising and entertainment. So to her, the Beaches promo is the exact same as Murray the monster teaching her about the word “volunteer” or “half” or “robot” (that one’s her favorite).
I’ve noticed this too when we watch her other favorite show: the Puppy Bowl. (Animal Planet airs the Puppy Bowl during the Superbowl–and I’ve saved it on the DVR ever since. This kid loves animals!) She doesn’t complain or ask me to “bip it” (skip it) during the commercials. To her, they’re just as interesting as the puppies.
This is petrifying. To not be able to differentiate between advertising and entertainment means that advertisements actually work really well on you. In such a way that it’s almost predatory, according to Peggy Orenstein. I agree. The idea that advertisers can so easily shape my child’s desires is incredibly frightening. Now of course, I can turn off the TV, or fast forward through these wanna-not-be-commercials commercials. And I do. But not every parent does. Nor does every parent stop to think about what advertising is doing to their kids.
When I was in college, I took a sociology course that was one of those “oh-my-God-my-whole-perspective-on-life-is-changed” classes. We read a book called Ways of Seeing by John Berger, and I wrote a quotation from the book on the whiteboard on my door. “[Advertising] steals a woman’s love of herself as she is and offers it back to her for the price of a product.”
I know it’s worked on me. I hope I can prevent it from working on my daughter… at least for a few more years.
So I think it might be time to turn off the TV.