Social effects of media, technology and advertising on kids

It is no secret that kids’ usage of technology nowadays is increasing. Ask any 5-year-old and they’ve likely held a cellphone in the past 30 days, or better yet, in the past week. There are various articles out there illustrating that even 2-year-old kids know how to use iPhones and iPads better than adults. Though the media is generally seen as a culprit, the green-eyed monster that bombards kids with subliminal messages and influences their thinking to shift into a consumer mindset, if we take a step back and understand how advertisers can message to them, their access to media serves as a vehicle. Furthermore, parents have been a conduit for kids to tap into technology.

Advertising is the art and science of using a combination of media channels to deliver a message at scale to a target audience. Many individuals have vehement feelings about advertising; it has been described as interruptive, distracting, useless and vicious. Yet if one were to examine advertising, it is a vigorous landscape centered around connections. Brands need to connect with audiences. Individuals connect with products to satisfy their needs.

Without a question, technology has made our lives easier. The car is a great functional invention that has improved our lives– allowed us to travel far distances to explore new sights. It has allowed us to connect with friends and family for dinner or coffee. Computers have automated mundane jobs and allowed us to move toward a business culture that is past busy, tactical work like calculating numbers manually or through a calculator, and toward a more strategic arena where we can extract insights at the click of a button.

Parents have found new ways to use technology with their kids. Past using devices like cellphones, TV and computers with their kids to watch videos or play games, devices have been used to pacify restless kids, instill discipline by using computer hours as rewards, set standards by establishing off-limit hours, and serve as a method to police kids and establish curfews.

Having said the above, this post is not meant to assign blame on any of these elements. Rather, I hope it provokes us to ask how can we use the relationship between technology, media, kids and parenting a means to achieve a positive outcome, even towards social good? How can we empower and inspire individuals with devices to which they already have access and media?

When used for benevolent purposes, the intersection of these elements could create a positive revolution. It can improve lives, it can change the world.

When we know that people in developing countries have access to mobile devices more than toothbrushes, more than electricity or water, what if advertisers create positive content and have these pushed en masse by cellphone carriers? What if we’re able to teach reading skills via short stories sent through a mobile phone?

I assume kids in both developed and developing nations use mobile for many reasons: it is a form of entertainment, through which they can play games; it is a form of connection, through which they can communicate with other people such as family and friends; it is a status symbol, which gives them identity with their peers. How can we capture this appeal and function of the mobile phone towards something that is fruitful and worthwhile?

The wide reach of the mobile device and it’s ease of use makes it an avenue for social good, an antidote for a consumerist world. When amplified and brought to scale, it can be a force to inspire collective benefits.

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