Are your kids spending machines

Marketing to children is big business. It is estimated that companies are now spending over $15 billion annually on advertising that is directly focused on marketing to children. According to a recent Harris Interactive study and Kaboose.com, a popular parenting Web site, kids are spending a projected average of $164 billion per year. And, $14.4 billion are offered to grade school age kids for discretionary items.

If that’s not enough to make you want to scream, consider research exposed in a 2009 documentary, Consuming Kids. According to the film, the average American child encounters more than 3,000 commercial messages over the course of one day making them among the highest influencers of everyday purchases. The film also points out that many kids as young as six months have already began the journey of loyal consumerism as they help their parents pick out sippy cups and toys featuring their favorite characters.

For most parents these incredible figures are not hard to believe. We’re no stranger to regular cries for fast food, candy in the checkout isle, the latest video games and expensive clothes. The real question is do we realize the lasting impact of allowing our children to be exposed to and persuaded by marketers. As experienced adult parents, we understand how hard it is to break bad habits. The same goes for young adults when they are forced to learn how to be financially independent – it’s a rude awakening for many.

It is our responsibility as parents to keep our kids from becoming spending machines and ultimately jeopardizing their financial future:

Learn to say “NO!” Remember your parent’s tried and true statements – “money does not grow on trees,” and “money doesn’t buy happiness.” Be prepared for “mommy, but why; everybody else has one?” Quickly and firmly follow up with “because I said so!” – code for end of discussion.

Teach them the goal of advertising. Help them understand that a product advertisement’s sole purpose is to make consumers think they need the merchandise when they clearly don’t. This is a good time to also talk about the importance of knowing the difference between needs and wants.

Limit the exposure to advertisements. Consider limiting the amount of media time allowed (TV, computer, video games). Distract them with more useful activities like planting a garden or building a bird house.

Set some boundaries.  Insist on a percentage of all monetary gifts, earned money or allowance is deposited into a savings or investment account. Explain the beauty of compound interest. Search for investment ideas together and help them stay motivated about watching their money grow.

Tanisha (Warner) Smith is a former communications manager at MMI.

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