Super Bowl Ads and Young Children

Did you and your family watch the Superbowl last night? Not everyone watches for the football – many people watch for the advertisements and the half time show. But, are the ads really kid-friendly (or the half time show for that matter)? The article below, written by the Children’s Screen Time Action Network, demonstrates that they just might not be, and what you as a parent can do about it.

It was January 1999 and the Falcons and the Broncos were playing in Super Bowl XXXIII when I had the moment. (Not the Janet Jackson moment, that came later.) But, the ‘my-kids-should-not-be-seeing-ads” moment. You could argue it was the moment that led me here to CCFC.

We were happily having a family gathering to watch the game. Drinks, friends, and pigs-in-a-blanket. Cut to an ad with Olympic distance runner, Suzy Hamilton, in her bathroom. As creepy music builds up the tension, she closes the mirrored door of her medicine cabinet to reveal a masked stalker with a chainsaw. Suzy runs away in Nike sneakers, which apparently allow her to outrun her would-be killer. The Nike ad asks “Why sport?” The answer: “You’ll live longer.” My 10 year-old daughter was terrorized. Heck, I was terrorized!

As in years past, this year’s ads promote alcohol and junk food. No surprise. At least two feature smart devices as characters in the ad. For instance, (spoiler alert) the Pringles device laments not having hands or a mouth to taste the nutrition-free snack. Even worse, they all promote materialism and excess. For kids to imagine life without advertising, they need to know what’s up with it. Here are a few suggestions to warm up for the big night.

  1. Use it as a media literacy lesson. When you are watching ads, explain to younger children that a big company paid a lot of money to change your mind and make you buy something. Remind older kids, “Who’s messing with your emotions here?”
  2. Explain that the people in ads are actors. They are not real people like you and me. They are getting paid to make you think so. They probably don’t even like that car, taco, or makeup.
  3. Speak up about your values. Are there gendered or sexualized images you find degrading? Does the ad glorify alcohol or encourage consumption of expensive products like smartphones? Is it just plain stupid? As my mother always said, “Ads insult our intelligence.” A kid version of this phrase might be, “You are way too smart for this ad.”
  4. Prepare yourself. Don’t be surprised or embarrassed. Think about what you’ll tell the kids.
  5. Create ad-break fun. Tell the kids that when the ads come on, we’re going to get food, add a piece to the football puzzle on the kitchen table, or check our score chart to see who is closest. Take bathroom breaks, get PJs on – anything that will take them out of the room during ads.

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