Children Need Legislation to Protect Them from Advertising: National Coalition Lauds APA New Position

Date of Release: 

Monday, February 23, 2004

February 23, 2004
Susan Linn, EdD (617) 232-8390 x 2328
Allen Kanner, PhD (707) 824-1696


The coalition to Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children lauds The American Psychological Association’s (APA) announcement calling for federal restrictions on advertising aimed at children under eight years old. Citing research showing that children under 8 do not have the cognitive capacity to understand persuasive intent, APA finds that all advertising to them is, by its very nature, exploitive. Long-standing public policy holds that all commercial content must be clearly identifiable as such to its intended audience, in order to allow the consumer to consider the source of the message in evaluating its claims. Advertising that violates this standard is deemed deceptive, and a violation of federal law.

The resolution was crafted by the APA Task Force on Advertising to Children. Psychologist Allen Kanner, who consulted to the Task Force commented, “For whatever reason, much of what is marketed to children ends up being bad for them: violent toys and media, junk food, sexually precocious clothes. But beyond that, the daily barrage of advertising that children experience warps their view of life by vastly overemphasizing the importance of possessions and money. No matter what is being sold, the amount of marketing targeting children needs to be drastically reduced.”

Howard University Professor of Child Development, Velma LaPoint, Ph.D., who also consulted with the Task Force, described APA’s action as a “much needed and appreciated first step” and said she hopes the it serves as a wakeup call to psychologists who serve as consultants to children’s marketers, “While APA did not directly address the consultation issue, it did indicate that advertising causes problems for children. Thus when psychologists work with marketers to help them craft messages that are more convincing to children, they are entering an ethical minefield.”

With this announcement, APA becomes the nation’s first professional organization to recommended restrictions on all television advertising to young children. The APA report urges policymakers to “take steps to better protect young children from exposure to advertising.” According to Harvard psychologist Dr. Linn, a member of the APA Task Force, “Such protections could include specific restrictions on advertising junk food or toys that promote violence or precocious sexuality. Given the developmental vulnerabilities young children have to advertising, however, a prohibition on all marketing aimed at children would is the only truly effective solution.”

APA’s Task Force on Advertising and Children was first formed in 1999 in response to a letter sent to APA written by the advocacy group Commercial Alert and signed by 60 psychologists and other health professionals. The letter called for APA to endorse a ban on advertising targeting children aged 12 and under and to alter its code of ethics to prohibit psychologists from consulting with the child advertising industry. SCEC Steering Committee members Drs. Kanner, LaPoint, and Linn were among those who signed the letter.