The Parenting Style That Helps Kids Become Smart Consumers

How you raise your child can help her make smart buying choices

parenting style and smart consumer - mother daughter shopping with pharmacist
An authoritative parenting style teaches kids how to be smart consumers. Hero Images/Getty Images

These days, we are constantly surrounded by ads wherever we go, whether it’s online or in the real world. And kids are particularly vulnerable to the power of marketing campaigns strategically-designed to catch their attention and interest.

Studies have shown that junk food ads on TV, online, and in the real world can increase the amount of unhealthy foods kids choose to eat in as little as 30 minutes after seeing the ads.

Research also shows that junk foods ads targeting kids are following them online and that children are increasingly being exposed to digital media ads promoting unhealthy foods high in sugar, fat, and salt when they are on a device like a tablet, computer, smartphone, or other electronic device.

Given how much and how often our children are exposed to advertisements, parents need to be vigilant about ways to minimize the impact of these messages. Parents can play an important role in helping kids learn how to protect themselves against these powerful and persuasive ads and grow up to be wise consumers.

Studies show that one particular style of parenting—authoritative parenting—is best when it comes to teaching kids how to be smart consumers. Researchers at the University of Nebraska conducted an analysis of 73 national studies that examined parental styles and outcomes—including consumer-related health and development indicators such as kids’ weight or their understanding of how ads are trying to sell something—among approximately 200,000 children.

The study, which was published online in the October, 2016 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, found that authoritative parenting led to the best health and development outcomes for kids, according to co-author Les Carlson, PhD, professor of marketing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

What Is Authoritative Parenting?

The researchers looked for trends and consistencies of four basic parenting styles:

  • Authoritative parenting
    Parents who are authoritative tend to set limits and also explain why, seeing discipline as teaching kids how to become mature and follow rules and make good choices rather than as punishment. They give kids independence but make sure expectations about behavior are clear and expect them to be followed. This type of restrictive but also warm parenting leads to the best parent-child communication and relationships, and has been associated with the best outcomes for kids.
  • Authoritarian parenting
    Authoritarian parents also set rules but they tend to be much less warm in their interactions with their kids. They are more likely to lay down the law but not give kids much guidance or explanation, and they expect their children to follow the rules without asking any questions.
  • Indulgent parenting
    Indulgent (sometimes referred to as “permissive”) parents are lenient and fail to set boundaries [link] or give kids consequences for bad behavior. They don’t give kids responsibilities and they give in to what kids want, setting the stage for kids to become spoiled.
  • Uninvolved parenting
    Neglecting, or uninvolved, parents don’t keep track of where their kids are or what they are doing. With this style of parenting, there is little warmth, communication, or involvement in kids’ lives, and there is inadequate discipline or supervision. This parenting style tends to lead to the worst outcomes for kids.

The University of Nebraska study found that the children of authoritative parents were more likely to eat healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables and make choices that reduced risk of injury, such as wearing bike helmets. The researchers also found that many of the studies showed that children who had restrictive parents were less likely to get involved in negative behaviors such as cyberbullying, drug use, vandalism, and theft, and were less likely to have poor body image—factors the study authors called “negative consumer socialization outcomes.”

What Parents Can Do to Help Kids Be Smarter Consumers

There are some small but important things parents can do every day to help kids learn how to filter all those ads they are constantly exposed to and help them grow up to reject negative messages and products to be healthier and smarter consumers.

  • Take kids shopping with you. Expose kids to the marketplace under your guidance, whether it’s your weekly grocery shopping or buying something for your home or for yourself. Let them see you compare prices, choose items that are healthier for your family, or better for the environment.
  • Watch TV with them. Look at what your kids see when they watch their favorite shows on TV or other devices. Go to the websites they visit and monitor what they see on other electronic devices.
  • Set limits on screen time. The best way to limit kids’ exposure to ads is to set caps on the amount of time they can spend on screens. Limiting time spent on screens also has numerous other benefits, including better
  • Talk about negative messages. When you come across a show, movie, or commercial that depicts women or cultural groups in a biased, sexist, or negative way, talk to your child about why that’s harmful. Talk about how certain ads may have misleading information and teach kids how to see through these messages and get to the bottom of what they are trying to do and say.

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