Madison Ave. has zeroed in on children; Advertising: Selling has gotten so much out of hand, some say, that it's time to turn off the TV.; FAMILY MATTERS


Nancy Darr, a mother of three young children, was wrestling with a problem common to many American parents: How do I protect my children from the onslaught of advertising?

Shut off the television, she decided.

"I felt really guilty at first because all the other kids are really into this," says Darr, who lives in Colorado. "But we made it a more gradual process. We didn't do it cold turkey. It took a few months to find out my guilt was unfounded. And we knew it was better for [them] in the long run."

Teletubbies. Beanie Babies. Care Bears. Barney. Star Wars. Even if you don't have young children, you know the shows and their gotta-have-it merchandising tie-ins, from school supplies to clothing to action figures.

Faced with increasingly sophisticated advertising techniques aimed directly at their children, many parents, teachers and professionals say it's time to direct America away from its consuming obsession.

In a survey sponsored by the nonprofit Center for a New American Dream, nearly four of five parents said marketing puts pressure on kids to buy things too expensive or bad or unnecessary for them.

Darr dislikes the one-upmanship attitude that advertising can induce. "It's hurtful when someone has something and others can't have it."

But it's not just about money. "When kids are totally bombarded with those messages, it can skew their values," says Jean Kilbourne, author of a new book, "Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight the Addictive Power of Advertising."

Advertisers, Kilbourne says, are "also selling attitudes and values. The primary value of advertising is that 'things bring us happiness.' Advertising yokes all kinds of emotions to products. [People] want happiness, but advertising promises we can get all of that from products."

Tips for parents

Here are some ideas from the Center for a New American Dream to help parents combat advertising:

* Teach your child the value of money. Offer an allowance and set up a plan with your child for depositing a portion of the allowance in the bank, and perhaps for donating a portion to a charity.

* When your children beg for the latest toy craze, talk about why they want the new object before just saying no or giving in. By talking about the reason, you may be able to diffuse your children's fixation on the object. Learn, however, to say no and set limits.

* Do the obvious -- turn off the TV.

* Limit how much TV your family watches.

* Encourage creative alternatives to TV.

* Mute the television during commercials, or watch them with your children and help them understand the marketing techniques.

* Make dinnertime special. Slow down and get reconnected.

* Spend more time in nature. It helps connect people to the larger scheme of things.

* Devote 20 minutes before bedtime exclusively to your children.

* Ask the PTA to discuss commercialism in the school, with teacher involvement.

* Be a role model. Avoid impulse shopping.

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