Media Literacy: Ads Sell More Than Products to Our Kids

Media Literacy: Ads Sell More Than Products to Our Kids

By Amanda Grossman-Scott

This article is the third in a series about media literacy and how to teach your children to look and think critically about the media they view.

Last Christmas I took my kids shopping. One of them felt he’d hit the jackpot when he found, for $5, a blanket with sleeves. “It’ll be perfect for Dad when he plays video games!” my son said. I groaned inwardly thinking it was such a ridiculous invention but smiled outwardly and congratulated him on his thoughtful gift. Christmas morning Dad unwrapped the gift and (with a pointed look at me) thanked our son exuberantly. Later, my son opened the gift and tried it out for himself. He frowned. “It’s so thin! This isn’t going to keep Dad warm! And it stinks! Why do the people on TV look so comfy and warm using these? They’re not soft at all!” My husband, ever the realist, said to our son, “It was a really thoughtful gift buddy, but commercials LIE so you will buy their stuff.”

Valuable lesson learned right? Commercials mislead us. They make us think products and services are better than they are so we will buy them. Easy to spot those, right? What about the products that promise more than that, and in a much more subtle way?

Subtle or Not so Subtle

I perused through a couple of teen magazines recently and here are just a few of the insinuating ads I found: Acne treatment that assures you that not only will your skin be clearer but that you’ll almost definitely have a boyfriend or girlfriend! Tampons that will provide not only protection but a more active lifestyle. Shaving cream that will make your skin so smooth you’ll be irresistible to the opposite sex. Energy drinks that promise long lasting energy with no side effects. Cologne and perfume that hint at the sexual prowess of its consumers.

Where Are Our Priorities?

Aren’t our teens smarter than this? They can see through this, right? It’s doubtful when most adults cannot. According to the Representation Project, women in the US spend $12,000 to $15,000 a year on beauty products and salon services. (The Representation Project, 2013) That’s enough to attend a four year public university for 1 year or enough to attend a community college for 4 years! (Clark, 2011)

Ads Sell More Than Products

Our children are being sold more than just a product. “…They sell values, images, and concepts of love, sexuality, success, and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should be.” (Jhally, “Killing Us Softly 4”) Girls between 11 and 14 see on average 500 ads a day. (The Representation Project, 2013) And if you think those ads aren’t affecting our girls, you’re wrong. 42% of first to third-grade girls want to be thinner, while 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of getting fat. (Dove, 2011) Boys aren’t excluded either. One study reveals 18% of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique (JAMA, p. 34-39, 2014), they are also at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes including depression and violence. (Cruz, 2014) “The media has become more of an equal opportunity discriminator.” (Lemberg via Cruz, 2014)

Media Literacy is A Vital Part of a Modern Day Education

Ask yourself this question: Who do you want telling your child what he should look like and who she should be? Teach your child the concept of media literacy: including critical thinking, dissecting an image and the subtle messages in advertisements. The more you do, the more educated and empowered this generation of consumers will be. And being an educated consumer is a vital part of raising child with healthy sexuality.

Curious to learn more? Check out our books, 30 Days of Sex Talks; How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, which is also available in Spanish; and 30 Days to a Stronger Child.

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The Representation Project. (2014, January 1). The Representation Project. Retrieved June 28, 2014, from

Clark, K. (2011, October 26). College tuition costs increase. CNNMoney. Retrieved June 28, 2014, from

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. (n.d.). . Retrieved June 22, 2014, from .

Jhally, S. (Director) Kilbourne, J., Ed.D. (2010). Killing Us Softly 4 : Media Education Foundation.

Prospective Associations of Concerns About Physique and the Development of Obesity, Binge Drinking, and Drug Use Among Adolescent Boys and Young Adult Men . JAMA Pediatrics, 168, 34-39. Retrieved June 27, 2014, from

Cruz, J. S. (2014, March 10). Body-Image Pressure Increasingly Affects Boys. The Atlantic. Retrieved June 28, 2014, from