Parents/adults hardly appear in children’s ads, how are they portrayed when they do appear?

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Parents/adults are shown as stupid, where kids are shown to be smarter or better as seen in the bubble yum ad. The child knows what the best gum is, and influences the adult to eat some himself, which of course he enjoys.

There is a lack of recent research on how the parental/adult figures are portrayed to children through ads. Atkin and Heald’s study shows that of the 200 toy and food ads shown on a Saturday morning, there were 76 adults in the ads. Of those 200 ads, only 3 made explicit requests for the child to ask for the product. However, with children influencing over $700 billion, ( parents should be able to recognize how advertisers are portraying them to children in order to get that money.

How media and advertisers portray adults and parents to kids impacts them and how they interact with their parents. Peterson claims that advertising influences the development of the self image and affect children’s idealized lifestyles. If this is true then what images and ideals are created by portraying children as superior to adults?

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While there is no explicit claim saying “tell your mom to buy lays chips,” a child can derive that from this commercial. A kid will see the humor in the ad that portrays adults as dumb and from that, maybe not cognitively, they will believe can control them. Arguably children already control parents with product due to the amount of purchasing power they already have.

The advertisers are using flattery to show the children that they are able to choose their products and make their own decisions.

Flattery is a technique that is effective because we like to be praised for being smart or powerful or better than someone else. When we praise children in advertisements, they feel as if they are better and smarter than the adults, this then ties the product to those feelings.

A perfect example of this is the following Bubble Tape ad:

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It is easy to see why the child would want to chew gum that his principal and bus driver, who are figures of authority, are unable to chew themselves. By telling the child that they have this exclusive product that somehow adults can’t have, children then are motivated to buy because they want to be better than these figures.

The parent child relationship is very complex and is hard to research and understand. The addition of media and advertisements heavily influencing that relationship only complicates it more. If parents can critically think about the ads and what they are teaching the child about that relationship, it is possible to counteract and explain the ideals being presented. If a child comes to the realization that advertisers are simply playing off their wants to be smarter and better than adults, then they will be better critics of the products being offered.


Atkin, C. & Heald, G. (1977). The Content of Children’s Toy and Food Commercials. Journal of Communication, 27: 107–114. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1977.tb01805.x

Peterson, R. (1998). The portrayal of children’s activities in television commercials: A content analysis. Journal of Business Ethics 17(14): 1541-1549. Retrieved from