Journal Issue: Children and Electronic Media Volume 18 Number 1 Spring 2008
The Potential Mediating Role of Families and Parents
Children, particularly young children, are exposed to advertising and marketing primarily within the family home. Moreover, parents provide the financial resources that allow their children to purchase products.125 How parents handle their children's exposure to advertising and their requests for products can be influential in shaping the way their children respond to advertised products and how advertising affects children's developmental outcomes. Parents can be involved in their children's television viewing in three ways. In coviewing, parents simply watch programs with their children without discussing content; in active mediation (also called instructive guidance), parents discuss the program with their children to help them understand the content or the intent of advertisements; and in restrictive mediation, parents control the amount or kind of content that their children view.126
Although studies are sparse, researchers have demonstrated that both active mediation and restrictive mediation can reduce children's requests for advertised products. One study, for example, manipulated mothers' use of information to influence eight- to ten-year-old children's interest in advertised products. Mothers responded to their sons' exposure to toy commercials using power-assertion (restrictive mediation), reasoning (active mediation), and no information (coviewing). Mothers had little influence over boys' choices regarding highly attractive advertised products regardless of which response they made to their children's exposure to advertising. By contrast, those mothers who used reasoning techniques were able to affect whether the boys chose moderately attractive products. In short, all forms of parental mediation appear powerless in the face of a child's choice of a highly attractive product, but reasoning, an active mediation approach, can affect the choice of a moderately attractive product.127
Restrictive mediation, in which parents enforce rules about television use, can also diminish children's requests for products. For example, Leonard Reid found that children whose parents restricted their television viewing made fewer requests at home for advertised products, presumably because they had learned that their requests would be denied.128 Put another way, families create tacit rules about television advertising beyond the commercial itself, and those rules influence how children behave.
Coviewing with children does not appear to be effective in countering the effect of advertising. One study explains that when parents view the content with their children, children take their parents' silence as an implicit endorsement of the content.129 Parents thus need to influence actively how their children, particularly young children, perceive advertisements. But apathy, rather than vigilance, appears to be the norm for parents when children are viewing television commercials.130