Consider the following:
Several European countries forbid or severely curtail advertising to children; in the United States, on the other hand, selling to children is simply “business as usual.” The average young person views more than 3000 ads per day on television (TV), on the Internet, on billboards, and in magazines. Increasingly, advertisers are targeting younger and younger children in an effort to establish “brand-name preference” at as early an age as possible. This targeting occurs because advertising is a $250 billion/year industry with 900,000 brands to sell, and children and adolescents are attractive consumers: teenagers spend $155 billion/year, children younger than 12 years spend another $25 billion, and both groups influence perhaps another $200 billion of their parents’ spending per year. Increasingly, advertisers are seeking to find new and creative ways of targeting young consumers via the Internet, in schools, and even in bathroom stalls.
Obviously, you cannot send your child around blind-folded everywhere they go. However, one source of particularly BAD advertising comes from the TV. Don’t think the stuff your child sees on TV influences them? Think again! Consider these FACTS:
- For children between the age of 2-48 months, each hour of daily TV viewing decreases their language score by 2.68 points.
- The tobacco industry spends $30-Million/DAY on advertising, much of which is on TV ads and subtle glamorization in movies. Up to 1/3 of smoking initiation in children is directly related to this advertising. Worse, this advertising appears to be even more influential than strong parenting practices.
- The alcohol industry spends $5.7 Billion/year on advertising. The average kids will view 2000 ads for alcohol on TV each year. There is a strong correlation between exposure to alcohol advertising and adolescent drinking. Beer commercials (by far the most sensational and common) appear to be a particularly strong risk factor.
- Food advertisers spend $2.5 Billion/year on restaurants advertising and another $2 Billion year on food advertising. As you can imagine, few of these ads are for things like broccoli. Rather the vast majority are for things like sugary cereals and high-calorie snacks. For every hour of weekly TV viewing there is a corresponding increase in child-calorie consumption. The childhood obesity epidemic is the main reason the current generation of children will probably be the first generation that has a life-expectancy shorter than their parents.
- Sex is used to sell just about everything. This is particularly bad in TV advertising. There is a strong correlation between exposure to sexual content in media (like TV) and early initiation of sexual activity.
- Aggressive behavior is well correlated to violence in movies:
As much as 10% to 20% of real-life violence may be attributable to media violence. The recently completed 3-year National Television Violence Study found the following: 1) nearly two thirds of all programming contains violence; 2) children’s shows contain the most violence; 3) portrayals of violence are usually glamorized; and 4) perpetrators often go unpunished
Have a TiVo and never watch the commercials?
Doesn’t matter! The worst content is the content of those things in the TV programs and movies themselves. Sex, alcohol, smoking, violence, and just about everything else you can think of is glamorized in one way or another by Hollywood.
The Stupid Box
When I was in college my friends & I knew exactly what the TV was for us… the stupid box. The more time we spent in front of it the stupider we became. Of course this does not mean that we attempted to limit our TV time. We had heaps of free time at this stage in our life and using a little TV to dumb-down the aspiring medical students was probably a good thing.
Turns out this does not translate once you become a parent. My time right now is very limited. On a good day, between all my responsibilities, I may have a few hours to spend with my wife and kids. On many days there is just not enough time. Thus every minute spent in front of the stupid box is time that I am taking away from my much more important priorities… loving my wife and raising my kids. In fact the Average American watched 153 hours/month of television last year (a 1.2% increase). That is just over 5 hours a day.
Really? … and we wonder why our marriages end in divorce, our kids are fat, and roughly 50% of Americans need antidepressants.
Paying for college
Let’s assume for the moment that my theory is wrong. Let’s also assume that despite the 25,000 hours your child may spend in front of the stupid box before they reach 18, they are able to gain acceptance to college. Have you ever considered the finances of the TV?
Where I live the Digital Premier package comes to $105/mo. There is an extra $8/month for HDTV, and $13/mo for the DVR. Add in some taxes and I am looking at $150/month. This comes to $1800/year for the stupid box programming that will likely encourage my children to smoke, drink, use drugs, be aggressive, have sex, and be fat.
If instead I put the $1800/yr into a college savings account (CSA), after 18-years I would have around $80,000… more than enough to pay for a 4-year university.
Practicing what I preach…
I must admit, this has been a gradual process for me and my family. Many years ago when I was a pediatric resident, my roommates and I decided (for financial reasons) to drop the cable package. Surprisingly, we did not miss it at all. In fact, the biggest surprise was all the extra time we had once we were able to unglue ourselves from the stupid box. This was more time to sleep (precious time for a pediatric resident), more time to exercise, and more time to spend with friends. We even found ourselves rediscovering the lost art of reading a book.
It was not until I got married though that my wife and I decided to actually Sell our TV. This is not something that we have regretted. Instead of sitting in front of the stupid box at night we find ourselves engaged in conversation. To some degree, we have not rid ourselves completely as we still have access to a variety of programs from our computer. In fact, while we both feel the TV is mostly an expensive intrusion and a terrible influence (especially on our children), we are still reasonable.
Take the Challenge
1. Remove all but one TV from your house (especially those in the bedroom)
2. Change your cable service to the most basic service offered. Better yet, buy an antenna and get the local channels for free.
3. Learn how to use your computer for any TV programming that you cannot live without.
4. Put whatever money you save by reducing your cable bill into a College Savings Account (CSA). Don’t have a CSA… then set one up.
Make a commitment to do this for a year. Not only will you put your TV on Craigslist at the end of the year, but you will also have a better marriage, smarter kids, and and more money in the college fund. It is hard to see the downside to this challenge.
Join the 21-day Challenge