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20 December 2011

”Pester Power”: Kids Asking For Unhealthy Food, And How Parents Deal With it

Keywords: advertising, characters, health, interview, kids, media, parents, persuasion, North America, brand characters, consumer behavior, family conflict, literacy, preschoolers, product packaging, purchase requests, shopping behavior,

Kids often pester their parents to buy things they see on TV, often unhealthy snacks. The Journal of Children and Media investigates. Kids are drawn by attention-grabbing packaging and fun cartoon characters they see in commercials. Parents share the best ways of dealing with the problem.

Take aways

  • Children like the attention-grabbing features and popular cartoon characters used on food packaging. Therefore, these techniques should advertise healthier foods.
  • Help parents to deal with “pester power” behaviors by explaining:
    1. How to enlighten their kids about the basic purpose of ads;
    2. How to set clear rules about their kids’ shopping;
    3. The availability of healthy foods to get for their children.

Study information

  • The question?

    How do mothers experience and cope with children’s pester power behaviors (repeated requests for advertised foods)?

  • Who?

    64 mothers of 3- to 5-year-old children

  • Where?

    USA, suburbs of Washington D.C. (higher than average SES)

  • How?

    The mothers responded to interviews in their homes or at a local café. They answered questions about their child’s media use, their experiences with their childrens’ “pester power” and how they coped.

Facts and findings

  • Mothers tend to view children’s “pester power” as a conflict: it makes them angry and they find it hard to stay calm. 
  • Mothers discussed different strategies to cope with their child’s “pester power” behavior:
    • The best method of dealing with “pester power” according to parents was teaching their kids about nutrition and the nature of advertisements.
    • On the other hand, giving children what they want was the worst way to deal with “pester power”.
  • According to mothers, there are three main reasons why children pester for foods:
    1. Attention-grabbing packaging (e.g., colors, shape);
    2. Fun and popular cartoon characters;
    3. TV commercials.
  • There were three main types of “pester power” behaviors:
    1. Juvenile pestering: asking over and over, crying and throwing a fit;
    2. Pestering to test boundaries: putting food in the cart without permission, throwing a tantrum with other people looking on;
    3. Manipulative pestering: saying flattering things, saying all their friends get that food.
  • Juvenile pestering is the most common form and testing boundaries is the least common. 
  • As kids get older, they do more pestering, especially manipulative pestering.
  • Children who watch more TV are more likely to pester.