It's no wonder it's hard to say "No"

My mother in law has a sweet tooth. She finds it hard to say no to cake. My hubby loves watching Breaking Bad. He finds it hard to say "No" to "Just one more" episode. As adults we know that when temptation knocks, it can take a lot of will power not to let it in. 

It’s the same for our children. Because they live in a 24/7 treatshop: They watch TV and see ads for fizzy and energy drinks. They walk to school and pass posters of crisps. They pop into the corner shop and the pocket money-sized bags of jellies beckon at the till. They go to local leisure centres where vending machines are full of more treats. At home they go online and the pop up ads, websites and apps applaud the virtues of sugar. Their GAA jerseys are emblazoned with logos of less than healthy foods. Lip balm comes in soft drink flavours. And even children’s medicines are sugar-coated. The list goes on.

It is impossible not to want something that is constantly wooing you. And the ubiquity of marketing means there is no ad-free haven for our children, or indeed ourselves. The prevalence of less healthy food brands amongst all of this advertising is extremely high, so there is little to counter the messages our kids consume i.e. that these sugary products are fabulous, fun and very desirable. 

The need to balance our messaging is as important as balancing our food intake. But the marketing of good and less healthy food is not a balanced affair. (Consider the outcry if alcohol advertising remained unchecked with no Drink Aware or Drink responsibly messaging. That is the scenario we have for food).

And the end result: Kids – who let’s face it, are always going to be pre-disposed to the wonders of sweets et al. – want more and more of the stuff. That means parents find themselves having to say no more and more often... And that’s not easy (especially when a lot of this food advertising carries an implicit if not explicit happiness/perfect family message).

So aside from continuing to say “No”, what else can parents do? 

In the absence of media literacy education in school, parents can do this at home. Teaching our children what advertising is, and explaining when they’re being marketed to, will help them develop their critical reasoning, and their ability to decipher, discern and distinguish between the brand message and what’s good for them. Children can and do pick this up remarkably quick. And they get very indignant at the thought of being "sold to". The more media literate children are, the more resilient they are to brand messaging, and the more they question what they see and their own reactions.

I’m not anti the advertising of unhealthy products per se (just the volume of marketing activity). And I’m not convinced banning, taxing and/or demonising brands will solve our issues with food. But nurturing our children to be more media literate will give them a life skill that will lessen their susceptibility to the omnipresence of food and other marketing, and while it won’t end it, it should also at least lessen their requests for "treats".


Posted: 06/10/2014 20:18:28 by Sheena Horgan

About Me

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Sheena Horgan
I am a media and marketing consultant specialising in youth & ethics. I'm also a documentary maker - “Is Childhood Shrinking?” – and author of "Candy Coated Marketing". I regularly contribute to the food marketing and obesity debate in the media.