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Pediatrician shares screen time recommendations for kids
01:52 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Dr. Jenny Radesky is a developmental behavioral pediatrician and media researcher at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. She was lead author of the new American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on digital media.

CNN  — 

When I was a child in the 1980s, advertisements showed up in predictable ways: as 30-second video spots during TV shows, audio ads on the radio, or print ads in newspapers or magazines.

The advertising our children see is very different.

Since the advent of the internet and mobile technology, ads can reach us anytime, anywhere, and target us based on what our online behavior reveals. This includes whether your phone’s GPS regularly goes to church; whether you make in-app purchases when you’ve lost too many games in a row; or whether you comment with emojis when your friends post about difficult experiences. These online behaviors say a lot about us, whether we know it or not.

Traditional marketing tries to tap into human psychology to find creative ways to convince us we need to buy things. Sometimes marketing is quite entertaining, and sometimes it crosses a line into deception or manipulation – particularly with children, who don’t process advertising the way adults do. In a new study in Pediatrics, for example, researchers found that fast food commercials were trying to cue viewers’ attention to the free toys in kids’ meals, hoping that kids may find the trinkets irresistible and then nag their parents for fast food.

While I agree that we shouldn’t be luring children with free toys in TV ads, as a media researcher I think we need to look much farther than TV. We are raising kids in the internet age, and marketing now goes far beyond predictable video spots.

Teaching our kids about modern advertising

We parents need to wrap our heads around the complicated ways that advertising shows up in apps and on video platforms and social media – particularly the aspects that aren’t visible to us, like data collection.

Once we understand modern advertising, we can translate it for our kids and mentor them to build critical thinking about the messages they are fed. Here’s a quick guide to the marketing children encounter in their digital experiences – and how to talk to them about it.

In-app advertising

My research has found that 95% of popular kids’ apps contain some form of marketing. App developers and platforms make more money when more ads are viewed or clicked, and children (with their weaker impulse control) are a prime target. Some developers use manipulative approaches like showing a sparkling present, which takes the child to an ad when clicked.

It’s also common for kids to earn rewards (such as virtual candy) for watching ads, and ad viewing can take up more