Advertising and Media Messages
The American Psychological Association's task force on advertising and children found that advertisers spend over $12 billion annually on messages targeting youth. Teens are an important part of the youth demographic. They are developing brand awareness and spending habits that will carry over into adulthood. Many have jobs or receive other disposable income from their parents that product manufacturers and the entertainment industry are eager to get a cut of. Unfortunately, the media messages these companies use to attract teens aren't always the healthiest.
In its policy statement on Media Education, the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Public Education recommends that state and federal government “explore mandating and funding universal media education programs with demonstrated effectiveness in American schools.” Appendix B has more media literacy resources that may help you get a program started in your child's school.
Kids are inundated with advertisements for sugar and fat-filled foods, yet the models and actors used to sell it look as if they've never eaten a bite of junk food themselves. The National Institute on Media and the Family reports that the average child sees over 10,000 television ads annually for food. Just the act of sitting and watching television can stimulate mindless snacking, and the barrage of food images doesn't help.
Find out if your child's junior or high school offers media literacy curriculum in any courses, such as journalism, and encourage your child to take the class. Most teens will probably be intrigued by the concept. Media literacy teaches kids to evaluate messages with a critical eye, to examine economic, social, and political motivations and manipulations in the images they see, and to recognize more subtle forms of advertising like product placements in television and movies.
Media Beauty Is Only Skin Deep
As your teen becomes immersed in the messages popular culture is sending her via movies, television, magazines, music, and other mediums, she may be more vulnerable to low self-esteem and a poor self-image.
A study cosponsored by Children Now and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the physical beauty of women and girls is a major theme in broadcast media. In movies, 58 percent of female characters received comments on their appearance, compared to only 24 percent of male characters. The study also found that across all print and broadcast media, between 26 and 46 percent of women are thin (for men, the numbers were significantly lower — between 4 and 16 percent). Among magazines specifically targeted to teenage girls, over a third of the articles were focused on appearance and physical beauty. The overall message seems to be how girls look is more important than who they are and that thin is definitely in.
Adolescent girls who are overweight (or believe they are overweight) are 50 percent more likely to start smoking as a weight-control tool than those who perceive their body weight as normal or low.
Again, media literacy education can help your teen recognize the reality behind those incredibly beautiful shots of slim models in her favorite magazines. She'll learn about media techniques such as airbrushing and digital manipulation of photos that erase physical imperfections on the page and screen. She should also understand what the average measurements, weights, and height are of a real American woman or teen versus the typical model.