“Pestering Power”: Are you giving in to your kids when they nag?

The “nag factor” is a real consideration for advertisers who market products to children.

We’ve barely returned the kids to school for the year and put away Halloween costumes and fall decorations. Winter weather has arrived and holiday season advertising is in full swing. The season of marketing tools and tricks often marks the beginning of a stressful time for many parents and caregivers; it is difficult to raise children the way we want when they are being constantly influenced by commercialism that goes against everything we are trying to teach.

In 1952, Mr. Potato Head was the first children’s toy to be advertised on television. Back then, marketing to children was a brand new idea. Today children are seen as an essential market that needs to be captured. In advertising, phrases such as “the nag factor” and the “power of pestering” are common language and something that advertisers take seriously when it comes to marketing their wares. The advertising phrase “pester power” implies the constant nagging that some children utilize when they are trying to persuade someone to purchase an item.

Children view over 40,000 ads per year on television and are also bombarded with advertising through the internet, at the movies, in magazines, and in school settings. In a 2010 revision of an earlier policy statement on children and advertising the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that “advertising is a pervasive influence on children and adolescents”. Research has shown that children who are younger than 8 years old are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising. The fact is that advertising is not going away.

So what’s a parent to do? How can we teach children to be savvy, informed consumers who know when something they see on television or the internet is too good to be true? There are many ideas that should be incorporated into your everyday interactions that may help. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following helpful tips for parents, which all begin at home:

  • Talk – Talk, talk, and talk some more. Discuss ads that you see on TV. Ask questions that include: What do you think the ad is selling? Why do you think you need that? What should we know about that product before we look at it? Teach children that purchases require thought and investigation. Talk out loud about the price of an item and compare similar items when you are with your child in a store. Teach label reading and unit pricing when shopping. Discuss safety and the difference between “needs” and “wants”.
  • Limit – Set limits on your child’s exposure to television and other media. Remember that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding television for infants and children under age two. Set limits on screen time that includes television, phone, video gaming, and the internet. Limit your own screen time so you set a good example.
  • Read – There are many wonderful children’s books that can assist parents and caregivers in teaching children about money and how to be a good consumer. Look at your local library for Sheep in a Shop by Nancy E. Shaw or The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain.
  • Explore resources that can help Parent education classes and publications from research-based sources can help. Look at the Penn State Better Kid Care practical tip sheet on what to think about before your buy that holiday toy that your child just has to have this year! Talk with other parents and caregivers and discuss how you can help each other.

Teaching skills for savvy consumers is not a one-time sit down discussion. These practices should be employed everyday as you parent the children in your life.