Q: I am fed up with all of the adult content in commercials that are shown during children and family programming. I have witnessed them across every network and have now started a Facebook page in hopes of gathering as many people as I can to petition for showing only G-rated commercials during children and family programming. Do you have any advice on what else I can do or who else I should contact for the petition to be heard?
~ Fed up in Fort Worth, Texas
A: Dear Fed up,
I can understand your frustration as a parent who wants to make sure that the media content her children are exposed to is developmentally optimal, or at least suitable. Broadcasters, networks, and media companies make their money by selling advertising space, and advertisers often use techniques to influence viewers rather than those that are developmentally optimal for children. Because their audience is so vast, they accept that no commercial will appeal to everyone.
That being said, the networks are also extraordinarily responsive to letters sent by their customers, largely because not very many people take the time and make the effort to write. Although old-fashioned, this form of protest may be more powerful than a petition with a bunch of signatures. I also recommend that you write not only the CEOs of the networks but also the managers of the local affiliates through which you see these commercials. Most ads are regional rather than network-wide, so the commercials you see in Fort Worth are probably different from the ones I see on the same network in Boston. A letter to your network affiliate manager may have an even greater impact because even fewer people write to them.
To improve your family’s immediate viewing experience, I would recommend that you do not watch network shows or commercially supported shows in real time. Instead, DVR them, or watch through another platform such as Hulu or Netflix, and skip forward through all commercials. This way you can avoid exposing your children to aggressive marketing campaigns and any content that you feel is inappropriate for them. Remember that children under the age of 8 are not developmentally equipped to understand persuasive intent, which means that they don’t understand that the purpose of advertisements is to persuade them to want a product or service. If they have already seen something in an ad that disturbed them, take the time to talk to them about what they saw and to listen to how it made them feel. Most concerning material can be handled well by talking to children and helping them process it.
Finally, it is important to understand that advertisers and networks are not going to make everyone happy. You as a parent are well-equipped to help safeguard your children from potentially harmful messaging, and you can educate them about the effects of advertising. I wish you all the best with your letter writing, and please keep us posted about your progress!
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,