The average American child sees an astonishing ten to twenty thousand commercials every year. Advertisers are no fools: They don't spend $700 million a year aiming advertising toward kids without expecting a return on their investment. Commercials create a desire in children—and in many adults—so strong that it approaches an absolute need.
Yet almost none of the products advertised on children's television come close to being necessities. For example, 96 percent of food ads featured on children's programs are for junk food, cookies, sugared cereals, and candy—nice treats for sure, but not exactly representative of the four basic food groups.
If you're going to let your toddler or preschooler watch commercial television at all, help your child become more savvy about advertising. Watch some commercials together. Ask your toddler what they are trying to sell and talk about what they do to make the product appealing. If you actually own a product that you see advertised on TV, compare what you can do with it to what you see people doing with it on TV.
You also can educate your child about advertising by playing games with the commercials. Time them and see how much of a half hour (or hour) is devoted to commercials and how much to programming. Or make a list of commercials that you see on a certain show. Based on your list, can you describe the audience (young children, boys, girls, older kids) that advertisers expect to be watching the show?
Better yet, try to avoid commercials as much as you can. If your TV has a "Mute" button, silence the sales pitches. Make this a condition of watching commercial TV.