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How to Win the War on Social Media Advertising to Your Kids

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Peer pressure. That’s what many parents of teens fear when their child hits adolescence. “How can I keep my kids from drinking, getting involved in drugs, or even ending up in jail?” There is a way to keep your kids on track, you CAN help them stay away from all the bad stuff. When it comes to keeping your kids away from drinking, specifically, a new report from the University of Albany (see “Parenting Mediation in the Digital Era” soon to be published in the Journal of Health Communication) and I, say how. Here’s what you need to know.

The authors show that when parents mediate their child’s screen views, kids listen. When you as a mom or dad discuss what they see on their screens with regard to drinking, you can actually influence whether or not they drink. As simple as this sounds, most parents doubt that they really can persuade their kids to avoid drinking, but those doubts are 100% false. Deep down, many parents believe that media determines their child’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. This is absolutely not true. Sure, media messages influence our kids, but not nearly as powerfully as we can. So roll up your sleeves. Here’s what you can do to keep your kids from letting media messages – like drinking- take your precious son or daughter down a dark path.

Most parents doubt they can persuade their kids to avoid drinking, but those doubts are 100% false.

First, take charge over the amount of recreational screen time your kids have. Yes, they will see things you don’t like, but at least limit it as much as you can. Set a limit like 30 minutes per day on a very specific type of screen use. Will your child scream and throw a temper tantrum? Probably, but he’ll stop eventually.

Second, teach them critical thinking skills. Look at their screens with them and ask what they think about what they see. Do they like seeing someone getting drunk, smoking pot, having sex? Then listen. Direct their answers by asking more questions like ‘why do you think that/feel that?’ Don’t just tell them what to think – teach them what to think, how to evaluate behaviors they see and then ask why they believe what they do. You may find yourself at a dead end with a child saying “I don’t know” but that’s OK. You are teaching them to think. If you need help, I recorded a podcast (Parenting Great Kids) with Anthony Weber and he discussed this.

Third, tell them what marketers are up to. One of the easiest ways to get kids to avoid falling for manipulation by marketers is to tell them why they are being sold alcohol, sex, etc. Advertisers don’t care one wit about your kids – so directly teach your kids why they are seeing alcohol or sex on their screens. Identify the enemy and your kids will get it. They don’t like the idea of being manipulated either.

Identify the enemy and your kids will get it. They don’t like the idea of being manipulated either.

Don’t be hypocritical. If you don’t want your kids to do bad stuff, then you can’t. If you laugh at drunk people on screens or routinely drink too much yourself, save your breath. Kids are smart. They don’t want to be sold a bill of goods and if they see you acting like a teenager, they’ll act like teenagers. That’s the tough part about parenting. Words matter far less than actions. So, if you want your kids to avoid peer pressure or media messages like drinking then you have to go first.

Good parents fail to intervene because they don’t think they can win. Never believe that lie. CLICK TO TWEET

The researchers from the University of Albany are right on track. They, correctly, advise parents to dive into a fight for their kids. The issue isn’t whether or not they’re right, we know they are. Science proves it. The real issue is: will you invest enough time and energy to do what works? We’re living in a culture that doesn’t like your kids or mine. Social media is sucking the life out of them, violence on screens desensitizes them and they are sold everything from sex to alcohol to weed. Those are bad but the real tragedy comes when smart, good parents fail to intervene because they think they really can’t win the battle. Never believe that lie.

That’s being duped by peer pressure.

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Feeling a a bit uneasy about having "the talk" with your son or daughter?
Dr. Meeker is here to help! “How to Talk to Your Kids about Puberty & Sex (ages 8-18)” is her most comprehensive course ever and she’ll equip you to have that conversation with knowledge, confidence and sensitivity. Check it out!

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