As grownups, we pretty much all know that what ads say isn’t always the precise truth. They always put the products in the best possible light.

Kids don’t think that way, of course. Just look at how many struggle with the idea that cartoons aren’t real. Think there’s any chance that they understand yet that commercials aren’t 100% true?

You’re going to have to teach them.

There’s nothing like having a preschooler point out inaccuracies in advertising.

This can be done starting at a pretty early age, and it’s a lot of fun once you start seeing results. There’s nothing like having a preschooler point out inaccuracies in advertising.

Explain Advertising to Them

Start out by explaining what ads are to them, and why companies advertise. It really helps if they understand why they’re seeing ads.

Use individual ads as examples. When the kids are really enthusiastic about a product ad they’ve just seen, ask them why. See if they understand how the ad gained their interest. Talk about how the ads are making them feel and whether the actual item will make them feel that way. Ask if they really think the product will do exactly as claimed. Ask if similar products can probably do the exact same thing.

This is easiest with toys, and can be very effective if they happen to have a few toys that they had seen advertised and were then disappointed in, or if the toy quickly lost their interest. Go over how the toy was advertised, and compare it to the real thing. You can also compare it to toys your kids already own.

Build Their Language Skills

You know how devious promotional language can be. It’s usually true, but a truth stretched as far as the advertisers dared, and then exaggerated. Helping your kids to spot how this is done is not only good for their ability to understand advertising, it’s great for their vocabulary.

Don’t be surprised if the kids start to treat advertising as lying. It’s a pretty natural step. You can decide how to explain the difference between lying and what most ads do.

Be Aware of Product Placements

It’s not just ads during the commercial breaks you need to discuss. It’s the placement of products within the shows themselves.

It’s not just ads during the commercial breaks you need to discuss.

This isn’t much of a problem during most cartoons, except in the sense that an awful lot of cartoons are all about selling the toys. But in other kinds of shows, you’ll see strategically placed and used products throughout the show.

Talk about why their favorite characters are drinking a particular soda. Talk about the other brands that are clearly shown on camera. Explain that this is also a form of advertising, and the preferences shown on television have little to nothing to do with real life.

Discuss Alternatives

It’s helpful to remind kids that they don’t need everything they see advertised on television. There are a lot of better choices for them out there.

It’s helpful to remind kids that they don’t need everything they see advertised on television.

It could be something you already own. It could be a similar product you already prefer. It could be a discussion on why you don’t need everything you see advertised. It could be a discussion on the cost of the product and why you don’t need to spend the money.

Ads try to make it seem so much like everything is needed, so teaching your kids that they don’t need it all is important.

Have Them Make Their Own Live “Ads”

Once the kids are starting to understand advertising, have them try making up their own, right in front of you. Give them something simple and tell them to sell it to you, any way they can.

This encourages them to think about what goes into an ad and product claims. With most kids, it’s also pretty funny, as they’re great at coming up with wild ideas.