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We Are Not Eating Ariel, and Other Tales of False Advertising

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A few years ago, we had tilapia filets for dinner. Joel, age four, remarked on the color of the meat. He wondered why fish is always white. My husband told him some fish, like salmon and tuna, are pinkish or orange.

Joel said, “I know what tuna is. It’s mermaid meat.”

The cans of tuna in the cupboard feature a smiling blonde mermaid on the label. It’s is false advertising when you are a four-year-old boy who judges the contents of the can by the label outside. Hopefully he doesn’t think the cans of O-shaped pasta in red sauce contain a little smiling Chef.

My pre-reading son goes through life bombarded by signs and symbols. Restaurants and junk foods have perfected this art. When my kids were mere toddlers, they could recognize the golden arches sign as the wellspring of french fries and deep-fried chicken chunks.

Savvy marketers trumpet a certain restaurant where a kid can be a kid. Judging by the imagery, a kid is a human who likes swimming in filthy ball pits under the watchful eye of a rodent, blasting things for tickets, then exchanging tickets for plastic choking hazards.

Commercials running on their favorite channels imply certain breakfast pastries are preferred by well-liked and highly skilled snowboarding pop stars with bling and straight As.

A universe of popularity, irresponsibility, mad skillz, free temporary tattoos, and parents who dole out cell phones like chewable vitamins is theirs for the begging.

Maybe I am naive, but I think kids can see when they are being manipulated. When my kids bite into a breakfast pastry, nothing extraordinary happens. Their tummies are filled and they go upstairs to make their beds and brush their teeth. Ho-hum.

With parental help, kids begin to understand the labels they see do not correspond with reality, and that commercials can be empty promises. The ability to think critically about products and services will be a huge gift in adulthood when advertisers promise younger looking skin, rapid weight loss, and lush hair growth in all the right places.

Many parents get upset by the fact their kids are marketed to relentlessly. Nothing has changed in the past thirty or more years. It’s been this way since the dawn of mass media, and it always will be this way. Rather than completely shielding kids, how about walking with them as they navigate the choppy seas of being in a coveted demographic?

I never truly believed the Koolaid man would bust through our kitchen wall shouting, “Oh, yeah!” as I swigged my sugared drink at lunch.

Did you?

Author: gretchen

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