Advertising Directed at Children: Is it Parents or Government’s Responsibility?

 Advertising Directed at Children: Is it Parents or Government’s Responsibility?


Advertising is one of the main marketing strategies and it supports numerous economies through promotional campaigns of products and services. It also creates awareness regarding the available products to the target clients who may be composed of both children and adults. The question about the regulation of advertisements that is directed towards children has become a highly debatable aspect because of many reasons. The main goal of this paper is to argue that it is the parents’ responsibility to take the initiative of regulating the content which their children are exposed. This is because over the past few years there has been a rise in the number of products and services that are advertised and targeted towards enticing children.

Social network platforms combined with other broadcasting facilities have provided new platforms for effective advertisement that is directly aimed at children. To achieve its objective, the paper will carry out an in-depth analysis of the existent regulatory legislation that concern advertisement directed towards children. This will be done through assessing how effective the existing laws are with regard to the protection of children against any unwarranted advertisements. The paper will also evaluate the importance of parents in regulation of the content and the amount of time that their children spend on any form of media.

Existing Regulatory Mechanisms on Advertisements Directed to Children

In 1929, Hebert Hoover organized a White House Conference on Child Health and Protection which is regarded as the first attempt that the United States government ever made towards regulating advertisements directed at children. At the end of this conference, it was concluded that even though the self-regulatory rules, were existent, it was necessary for the government to initiate more policies that would make sure that children are indemnified from unwarranted media content. The resolution of this conference also brought forth the fact that children were capable of and needed the freedom to regulate themselves on matters concerning the content to which they are exposed. Parents were thus encouraged to give their children the freedom of owning their personal equipment and toys, including a sleeping room (Calvert 207-208).

The resolutions of the conference further suggested that during family shopping days, it would be prudent to let the children choose products and access services of their own preference. The main objectives of these resolutions were to make sure that the society socialized children who could exercise self-control as well as develop a sense of personal dependency and judgement, which would be very important in their future activities and relations. This conference changed the place of children in the American society by introducing a self-regulatory mechanism whose implementation was to be facilitated by the children. Consequently, children became major partakers in the consumer market and even had a spending power that exceeded that of their parents. This consuming and spending power of children in the United States is still enormous because they possess the ability to influence the purchasing outcomes of their parents (Calvert 208).

The practicality and effectiveness of the resolutions of this conference were questionable because they gave the children too much freedom on matters concerning the choice of products and devices to access hence sidelining the parents in the process, disregarding the fact that it was the parents whose finances were spent in satisfying their children needs. Children lack the capacity to decide that which is best for them and it is thus the responsibility of the parent to choose the best products that their children can access. Parents always have the interests of their children at heart, and can therefore be trusted to ensure that the choices they make regarding any issue concerning their children is the best possible option for the welfare of the child in question.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a growing concern among members of the public over television advertisements that were directly targeted at children. American government introduced limitations on these adverts as a way of enhancing government control over the media industry. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) undertook an interventionist position with regard to these types of advertisements and it did this by establishing new policies for children programmers and advertisers. The government began to put pressure on the industry to adopt codes, regulate some of the worst excesses and violations, and introduce more educational programs. Despite its helpfulness, this regulation did not last for a long time because in the 1980s there was an increasing trend towards deregulation, and as a result, there was massive accommodation of media and advertisers demands many of which still played a pertinent role in exposing children to more excesses and violence (Grimes 165-166).

The government has attempted to insist on the compliance and enforcement of advertisement regulation. However, even with the prohibition of host selling and regulation of program length commercials directed towards children, numerous television stations in the United States have continued to flout the children’s advertisement rules with very little ramifications or interventions from the government. With the continued fusion of content and advertisement within the traditions of digital media, it seems less likely that the existing media regulatory policies are sufficient to regulate child adverts without a significant expansion in scope combined with a streamlined enforcement procedure (Grimes 165).

The involvement of governmental organizations in reviewing the existing media regulatory policies has been very slow and this accounts for some of the difficult certainties of the digital era. The FCC for example decided to reorganize the wide spread use of advertising websites by children’s television enterprises and this move was aimed at enforcing new rules focused on regulating the display of website addresses within any programs for children. This action was only initiated after a nationwide campaign that was organized by a special interest group in a movement dubbed the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC). The group demanded that the FCC ban all the advertisements of unhealthy foods that were aimed directly at children. The campaign did this based on the fact that most of the emerging media industries often do not fall under the power of existing media regulatory rules and directives (Grimes 166).

The failure of the government to initiate the necessary expansion strategies to include all media bodies has been one of the factors attributed to the broadcast of adverts that are considered unhealthy to children. Furthermore, the numerous publications by the American psychosocial Association (APA) argue that there is a link between rising risky health patterns, including obesity, with the rise in the exposure of children to factors such as unhealthy food advertisement (Grimes 166). To this effect therefore, the practicality of government policies towards regulation of child advertisements remains questionable.

The Relevance of Parents in Controlling Advertisements Directed at Children

Every parent has a responsibility to make sure that their children learn values that improve their well being in society. Despite this enormous responsibility, parents have to compete with many commercial entities that hire psychologists in the advertisement sector to come up with the best mechanisms that can be used to boost the spending culture among children (Advertising Association7). Such psychologists may sometimes in an attempt to promote their products and services give misleading information to draw the interest of children.

A parent is therefore responsible of ensuring that the information from the advertising media does not corrupt the mind of a child. The concern of most parents on matters around their children wellbeing revolves around the issues whose impact may bring out negativity. The main aim of any parent in relation to digital media adverts is to develop a pragmatic business relationship between a child and a product or service and this thus unveils the responsibility of parents towards making sure that the growth of their children is characterized by healthy living (Advertising Association13).

Regardless of the content of any advert especially those that focus on food products, a parent is responsible of making a decision regarding the best product that effectively enhances the life of a child. The duty of regulating advertisements targeted at children cannot be left to the government solely because if the government employs stringent measures on child adverts, they may stand to lose revenue collected from the businesses whose target consumers are children. It is a fact that one of the duties of the government is to protect all its citizens against any form of harm.

Nevertheless, the laxity of government bodies such as the FCC in broadening its policy spectrum exempts certain media agencies from its regulatory policies and the adverts they broadcast may sometimes have a lasting impression on children especially in the event that they are unable to comprehend the intended meaning (Wilcox, et al 8). The onus is therefore left to the parent to make sure that children are indemnified from unwarranted content. They must also elucidate and construe any form of information their children access from diverse media sources to safeguard their minds from unnecessary manipulation, which can have a lasting impression if left unregulated (Calvert 213).

According to studies by the American Psychological Association (APA), children below 8 years old are not capable of conducting an analytical evaluation and developing a proper comprehension of the advertisement broadcasted on different media sources like the television, the internet, newspapers, and magazines. Subsequently, these children are more vulnerable and likely to accept any adverts with honesty and immense impartiality. Furthermore, the research by APA asserts that these children also possess the ability to remember the content of advertisements, especially those they have been repeatedly exposed to.

These product messages influences the consumption desires of these children hence putting pressure on the parents, to meet the children’s demands, as they decide on which products and services to purchase. Failure by parents to control these forms of advertisements may lead to harmful eating habits as is evident from the increase in obesity cases among children and youth in America. According to APA, the only solution towards reducing these harmful health practices is to regulate these practices through providing advice and guidance to children about the intentions of any adverts targeted towards children (Schor 112).

The journal of the American Medical Association revealed that children between the ages of 2-17 spend about 16,000 hours on television every year which by far surpasses the 12,000 hours that they spend in school and their studies. These numerous hours that children spend on television has made them the prime target of majority of the advertising agencies. Television sets and other media channels are easily accessible in the homes of these children and it is therefore the responsibility of parents to monitor and control the amount of time that their children spend on such devices. Limiting the time spent on television will mean reducing the number of adverts that children may be exposed to.

The role of the government through agencies like the Committee of Communication of the American Academy should be centered on proposing possible recommendations that parents should implement. This committee proposed that children below two years of age should never be exposed to television because such exposure interferes with their brain development process. In order to make sure that their children develop successfully parents ought to exercise their duty and minimize the amount of time spent by children on television as this will enable them to experience efficient cognitive development (Calvert & Barbara 424).

The manipulation of the perspective of children regarding the world is the major objective of most advertising agencies that are aimed at children and in order to achieve this strategy, a lot of manipulation of images and corruption of news is done so as to suit the desires of children. As a result of this strategy, children have been bombarded with an array of unreal images which have led to health related complications such as anxiety and stress. The cigarette industry for example advertises its products on different media channels which are supposed to target the adult generation who smoke.

Nevertheless, the unintended and yet very important recipients of these adverts are children who lie in the pool of potential smokers. These companies therefore employ this tactic in a bid to prepare future smokers at an earlier age (Calvert 217). Where children fail to comprehend the intention of the advert and take its literal meaning, the child may begin indulging in tobacco consumption from an early age. To minimize these effects, parents need to exercise their responsibility of engaging their children in discussions regarding tobacco and the impacts they have on smokers. In addition, it is the duty and responsibility of the parents to explain the objective of any advert in relation to how it can manipulate the mind (Calvert 218).

Objections to parental control of advertisements directed to children

Claims have been asserted propagating that televisions and other forms of media play an essential role in assisting children to comprehend what is best for their well being. Through these adverts, various companies and businesses empower children to be able to face and deal with uncomfortable realities of how children elsewhere have gained from different products and services. Whenever a parent controls consumption of that which is guaranteed as significant in the growth and development of a child, then the child, in this context may, fail to access essential products and services. A parent may be averse to a particular product or a service because of varied reasons. Nevertheless, it is necessary to note that just because a parent dislikes an advertisement concerning a product, does not necessarily imply that the product or service in question may negatively affect the child if unregulated (Pomeranz 99).

Those who object to the role of parents in the regulation of advertisements targeted at children argue that it is the sole responsibility of the government to ensure that any content that is to be aired to the general public meets the required standards of set by the existing policies. Although parents may regulate the content their children watch, they may not always be available to exert their authority. An absentee parent might therefore fail to minimize the exposure of their child to adult content and other unhealthy adverts. If the government took charge of carrying out a proper assessment and facilitating minimal self-regulation of different company adverts then the society, particularly the children, would be subjected to healthy and informative advertisements.

The government in comparison to parents has proper machinery to establish and enforce regulation of advertisements directed to children. When the government mandates an agency such as The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), with such a regulatory role, then this body will automatically be given a constitutional obligation to monitor, control and adequately respond to marketing influence on children in a broad spectrum. There are so many media channel that exist in the current society and parents may lack the capacity to regulate adverts in schools, parks, and even during sporting events (Pomeranz 100).


The rising levels of advertisements targeted towards children needs to be controlled. The government through bodies such as the FCC and the FTC has been implementing regulatory policies to help eliminate the possible devastating impacts of such adverts on children. The evolution of other media sources that fall out of the spectrum covered by these government bodies has contributed to the escalating levels of unwarranted adverts and this has forced parents to take charge of their children’s well-being. Critics of parental regulation argue that it may fail to cover the whole sphere of influence because it only concentrates on the operations within a particular household hence it only covers a narrow scope. Despite these critics, it is essential to note that parents are the primary agents of socialization and the teachings and instructions that children derive from them ultimately influences their way of relating with different aspects and concepts of the society. To enhance proper growth and development of children, parents have a huge responsibility of regulating the adverts that their children are exposed to.

Works Cited

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Solutions. SW1P 1RT, London, pp. 7, 13, 2011. Retrieved on October 16, 2013 from

Calvert, Sandra L, and Barbara J. Wilson. The Handbook of Children, Media, and Development.

Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 424- 426. 2011.

Calvert, l. S. Children as Consumers: Advertising and Marketing. The Future of Children. 2008.

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Grimes, S. Kid’s Ad Play: Regulating Children’s Advergames in the Converging Media Context.

International Journal of Communications Law & Policy, pp. 165-166, Issue 12, Winter 2008. Retrieved on Nov 24, 2013 from

Pomeranz, J. Television Food Marketing to Children Revisited: The Federal Trade Commission

Has the Constitutional and Statutory Authority to Regulate. Pp. 99- 100. Retrieved on Nov 24, 2013 from

Schor, J. Regulation, Awareness, Empowerment. Young People and Harmful Media Content in

the digital Age. Nordicom. P. 110- 112. 2006

Wilcox, B, Kunkel, D, Cantor, J, Dowrick P, Linn, S & Palmer, E. Report of the APA Taskforce

on Advertising and Children. American Psychology Association. 2004. Retrieved on October 16, 2013 from