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Parents who let their children watch a lot of TV end up MORE stressed due to pester power

Letting children watch a lot of television can leave parents feeling ‘more stressed’ due to pester power from advertising, according to researchers behind a new study.

University of Arizona scientists questioned more than 430 parents of children aged two to 12 about their children’s viewing habits and their own stress levels.  

The more TV kids watch, the more ads they see – and the more likely they are to ask for things they’ve seen on the box during shopping trips, according to new research.

According to the study authors, parents can mitigate this rise in pester power by turning off the TV and discussing consumerism with their children. 

Many modern parents often plop their children in front of the telly to give themselves a break, but the new study suggests these tactics might backfire.  

Study lead author Doctor Matthew Lapierre said as children are exposed to advertising they ask their parents for more things – which generates conflict. 

University of Arizona scientists questioned more than 430 parents of children aged two to 12 about their children's viewing habits and their own stress levels. Stock image

University of Arizona scientists questioned more than 430 parents of children aged two to 12 about their children’s viewing habits and their own stress levels. Stock image

‘What we haven’t looked at before is what the potential effect is on parents. We know kids ask for things, we know it leads to conflict, but we wanted to ask the next question; Could this be contributing to parents’ overall stress?’ 

Their findings suggest that it could lead to an increase in overall stress levels.

Dr Lapierre says there are some things parents can do, perhaps the most obvious of which is limiting screen time.

‘Commercial content is there for a reason: to elicit purchasing behaviour,’ adding that if this is turning into a problem ‘maybe shut off the TV’. 

He acknowledged that course of action can be easier said than done.

Dr Lapierre explained that another option that parents can try, especially as advertising geared toward children ramps up around the holidays, is to consider how they talk to their kids about consumerism.

The researchers looked at the effectiveness of three types of parent-child consumer-related communication for the study.

The first was ‘collaborative communication’ – when a parent seeks child input on family purchasing decisions. For example, saying things such as: ‘I will listen to your advice on certain products or brands.’

The second form was ‘control communication’ – when a parent exhibits total control in parent-child consumer related interactions – for example, saying things such as: ‘Don’t argue with me when I say no to your product request.’

The third form was ‘advertising communication’ – when parents talk to their children about advertising messages – for example, saying things such as: ‘Commercials will say anything to get you to buy something.’

They found that, in general, ‘collaborative communication’ is associated with less parent stress.

According to the study authors, parents can mitigate this rise in pester power by turning off the TV and discussing consumerism with their children. Stock image

According to the study authors, parents can mitigate this rise in pester power by turning off the TV and discussing consumerism with their children. Stock image

However, the protective effect of collaborative communication decreases as children’s purchase initiation and coercive behaviours – such as arguing, whining or throwing temper tantrums – increase.

Both control communication and advertising communication were associated with more purchase initiations and children’s coercive behaviour, authors found.

This suggests that engaging less in those communication styles could be beneficial.

However, when children were exposed to higher levels of screen time, the protective effect of engaging in less advertising communication decreases.

THREE TYPES OF PARENT-CHILD CONSUMER DISCUSSION

The researchers looked at the effectiveness of three types of parent-child consumer-related communication for the study. 

Collaborative communication: when a parent seeks child input on family purchasing decisions. 

For example, saying things such as: ‘I will listen to your advice on certain products or brands.’

Control communication: when a parent exhibits total control in parent-child consumer related interactions.

For example, saying things such as: ‘Don’t argue with me when I say no to your product request.’

Advertising communication: when parents talk to their children about advertising messages.

For example, saying things such as: ‘Commercials will say anything to get you to buy something.’ 

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Study co-author Eunjoo Choi, a doctoral student in communication, said: ‘Overall, we found that collaborative communication between parents and children was a better strategy for reducing stress in parents.

‘However, this communicative strategy shows diminishing returns when children ask for more products or engage in more consumer conflict with parents.’ 

They focused on younger children – aged 2 to 12 – because they have less independent purchasing power and spend more time shopping with their parents.

Lapierre  acknowledged that the way people consume entertainment is changing with the rise of streaming services, with many viewers no longer being exposed to the traditional advertising of network or cable TV.

But he said that advertisers are finding creative ways around that, through tactics such as product placement and integrated branding – incorporating product or company names into a show’s narrative. 

Advertising towards children remains a multibillion-pound industry, said Lapierre, adding that: ‘In general, more television exposure means more exposure to commercialised content.

‘Even if I’m streaming, if I I’m watching more of it, I’m likely seeing more integrated branding.’

He said advertising aimed specifically at children – which often features lots of bright colours, upbeat music and flashy characters – can be especially persuasive, since, developmentally, children aren’t fully capable of understanding advertising’s intent.

Dr Lapierre added: ‘Advertising for kids is generated to makes them feel excited.

‘They do a lot of things in kids’ advertising to emotionally jack up the child.

‘Children don’t have the cognitive and emotional resources to pull themselves back, and that’s why it’s a particular issue for them.’

The findings have been published in the International Journal of Advertising

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