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Young Eyes on Wily Ads

The sheer volume of advertising aimed at kids raises questions of whether it is done responsibly. The average youngster views some 20,000 commercial messages a year, and that figure will rise as more children surf the ad-soaked Internet.

Are they equipped to know when they're being manipulated? In Europe, many nations restrict TV ads for kids. Sweden has a complete ban.

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Now 60 members of the American Psychological Association have asked their colleagues to condemn as unethical the practice of some psychologists who help advertising agencies design campaigns targeted at children.

Psychology, in various guises, is an ingrained part of advertising. In Australia, one ad agency is trying to fine- tune ads by using brain-scanning technology to register focus groups' conscious and subconscious responses to various test-ad pitches. Those wearing the wired helmets are adults. But will children be used next?

Everyone, not just psychologists, must stay alert to subtle manipulation of children by media. Trade associations can do their part to enforce standards. A few schools have courses that help young people understand advertising strategies, and how to cope with them.

But home has to be the first line of defense. Reasonable monitoring of TV and computer use is a must. And nothing can better offset the materialism implicit in much advertising than a family's own values.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society