Has Advertising Disappointed You or Your Children?

Picture three eager children scrolling through Amazon to find the perfect backpack. As young boys, anything with dinosaurs is the big attraction. They study the options, name the different species of dinosaurs and look for pictures that are colorful, dramatic and scary. They all looked so cool! Decisions were finally made, credit card information entered and orders placed. What’s next?

A hard lesson: teaching children to be better consumers

Two days later, the packages arrived. At first glance they looked awesome and the kids were thrilled. However, within a few hours, a zipper broke on one, and within a few more hours, a seam ripped on another. Only one remained intact, but even that one looked like it might not survive the rigors of books and papers being shoved into it.

When the zipper broke, the child assumed he had done something wrong. When the seam on the second backpack ripped, the other child cried because he would not be able to carry his books in this highly anticipated new bag. The parents had two very sad children who did not understand why what had looked so good in the pictures turned out to be so inferior in quality.

As we know, advertisers can appeal to children with enticing photos

Learning that some manufacturers sell inferior products that look sharp but easily break or fall apart is a difficult lesson.

As adults, we may also have been swayed by convincing advertising only to find the products do not live up to expectations. We know children can be swept up by the enticing images of slick advertising only to discover money is wasted and products fall apart.

Children naïvely believe that pictures and words in advertisements are made by people who are trustworthy. Difficulty continues because it is a hard lesson to select quality items less likely to break or come apart even if they are not quite so attractive!

Learning how to be a careful consumer requires doing some research, reading reviews, and checking on return policies.

It also involves learning more about the company selling the products.

So far, Amazon seems to be doing a good job of allowing kids to have their items returned—another good lesson for them about the process of what you do if and when you are disappointed by retailers or manufacturers.

Meanwhile the next job will be to go back to the drawing board, look again and try to make a selection based on quality instead of appearance. Their parents may convince them to find a little less exotic but much more substantial backpacks from L.L. Bean or the like, a company with an well-earned reputation and return policy. I shared with these kids that for decades my father would return the moccasins he bought from them when they would finally wear out after 10 or 15 years, and the company would live up to the reputation of replacing the item regardless of how long the person had them. This is a company with a good reputation and an excellent return policy. Good lessons for children to learn!

It is important for parents not to criticize children for their naïveté.

We need to appreciate how disappointing it can be when something that was fun to shop for and purchase turns out to be very poor quality upon receiving the item, but teaching children how to become better consumers sometimes requires they have a few first-hand experiences with being deceived through clever advertising.

As most of us learned, it was challenging to sort through advertisements and marketing ploys to determine which companies were trustworthy to deliver quality products. Sometimes it is through this process (of being enticed by products that look so good on paper or on a screen, and then turn out to be made of inferior quality) that children and even adults grow a healthy cynicism that can lead to much better consumerism.

The next lesson is to show children that they have the power to write reviews that warn others based on what they learned!

Invitation to Reflect

  1. Can you recall as a child being excited to buy something that looked so good in an ad and turned out to be of poor quality? How did it make you feel? How did your parents respond? Were they sympathetic and understanding or critical and even shaming?
  2. What are the kinds of messages you want to transmit to your children about learning how to be critical thinkers and good consumers in a world of slick advertising?
  3. How do you want to respond in healthy ways when you’re children make a mistake and purchase something that quickly lets them down, breaks or does not live up to expectations? It can be important to be understanding and gentle when helping children realize many products are visually attractive and may seem like good choices, but that may let them down. Sometimes experience truly is the best teacher!

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network