Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Media Literacy: protecting kids from deceptive ads

For the last few years, as a presenter with The Northwest Media Literacy Center (NMLC), which I helped found, I have given talks to groups about the critical importance of understanding media's effects on us, our children and our world.

One of NMLC's goals is to establish media literacy curricula in Oregon’s schools. Today, we were given a boost by a new policy statement by U.S. pediatricians.

Here’s an excerpt of the story as reported by Reuters:

The American Academy of Pediatrics today urged doctors, parents, legislators and regulators to limit children's viewing of television and access to the Internet, move some TV ads to later hours after bedtime, and restrict how alcoholic beverage makers promote their products.

"If we taught kids media literacy, you can essentially immunize kids against advertising," said statement author Dr. Victor Strasburger, a pediatrician at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

The average American child is bombarded by 40,000 product advertisements a year in all media. The forms of advertising range from television commercials to billboards created by the $250 billion U.S. advertising industry, said Strasburger. He added that children younger than 8 years are especially gullible.

He said advertisers and broadcasters bear a responsibility to teach and not just exploit child consumers.

"I would like to see parents energized and more sensitive to the impact of media on kids," Strasburger said. "If they observed (American Academy of Pediatrics) guidelines to allow children no more than two hours of entertainment media a day, that alone would limit exposure."

Studies have shown a direct relationship between advertising exposure and youths who try smoking or drinking alcohol, he said.

Children who watch more television -- presumably exposing them to ads for fast food, snacks, soft drinks and candy -- are more likely to be obese, although no studies show a direct correlation between advertising and obesity, he said.

"If we can make the airwaves healthier, and make advertising healthier, then it makes more sense than putting 50 million children on a diet," Strasburger said.

The statement, published in the academy's journal Pediatrics, also sought to limit televised ads for alcoholic beverages to show just the product and not bikini-clad women or cartoon characters, and to ban tobacco advertising of any kind.

Australia has banned all tobacco advertising, Strasburger said, and Sweden and Norway have barred TV ads directed at children aged 12 years or younger.


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