If you’ve ever handed a smartphone or tablet to a toddler who just wouldn’t quiet down or found yourself trying to regulate the amount of time your children spend online, you know that the digital lives of children are in equal measure a profound source of promise and peril.
While questions about screen time are a perennial favorite topic when it comes to children, and in no way trivial, there are some much darker issues that merit discussion, but seldom make it through the din that makes the digital world such a treacherous place for young people.
Leaving aside concerns about privacy-destroying cookies and data-mining, the simple fact of the matter is that children are constantly bombarded by Internet advertising. Some research suggests 95% of the most popular kids’ apps contain advertising in some form, to say nothing of ads in between and during videos on Youtube, commercials between songs on music streaming services, banner ads on websites, and so on.
While online ads may be annoying for adults, they are a more serious threat to early childhood development. Younger children may have difficulty discerning the difference between them and their intended content, and they certainly may not understand their purpose. It’s not just the younger demographics. Older children and adolescents may have difficulty recognizing the in-line advertising strategies used by social media influencers or the prevalence of product placement, which isn’t necessarily harmful, but may tend to expose them to content of questionable value.
The long-term effects of advertising that targets children include obesity, a more materialistic outlook and increased conflict with their parents.
What you can (and can’t) do about it: Unfortunately, the only reliable way to keep children entirely away from online advertising is to keep them offline entirely. Consider investing in ad-blocking software and/or paying for ad-free versions of streaming services. This won’t keep advertising content completely out of their lives, but it can help to reduce its influence to a duller roar.