Young teenage girl sitting in a grey chair with a mobile phone.

How Advertisers Target Your Teen’s Smartphone and How to Cope

by Screen Time Team on 05/09/2018

How Advertisers Are Reaching Teens and Tweens

Group of three teenagers leaning against a tree looking at their mobile phones.

Advertisers know how important smartphones are to teens and tweens.

Traditional commercials are getting easier to avoid all of the time, so brands have to be creative about how they reach out to teens. In many cases, they do that through social media. Sites like YouTube and Snapchat are prime territory for reaching teens and tweens. These popular apps are widely used by this age group, and sometimes it can be tough to tell what’s an ad and what’s entertainment. Frequently, the two are mixed.

For example, some brands partner with popular YouTube personalities, called influencers, to promote their brands. This means that a YouTube celebrity that your child watches for fashion tips, gaming commentary, or humor – possibly a teen or tween like themselves – may also be getting paid to pitch a particular brand of shoes or the latest game console. On Snapchat, brands release their own filters for users to apply to their photos.

Some brands even offer their own apps for kids to shop with. Amazon now offers teen accounts for children as young as 13. Brands like Build-A-Bear and Victoria’s Secret Pink offer games for teens to play on their shopping apps.

Privacy and Data Collection

Brands are also watching your teen’s movements through their various apps and online activities. Social media and gaming sites often sell or share user data with outside companies. This gives advertisers the information that they need to make targeted ads. If your child expresses interest in buying new sneakers on one site, they may see ads for sneakers on the next couple of sites that they visit.

Children under 13 are protected somewhat from data collection efforts by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). But children 13 and older are fair game for data collection and targeted advertising. And many sites that require users to be 13 or older to make an account don’t do anything to verify the ages of their users. Tweens can make accounts on these sites by simply checking a box that says they’re 13 or over, even if they aren’t, and there’s nothing to stop advertisers tracking those children’s online activities in order to target them with ads.

What Parents Should Do

Young teenage girl sitting in a grey chair with a mobile phone.

Tweens and teens may not always recognize ads for what they are, and some ads can affect a teen’s self-image.

On the surface, the idea that advertisers are targeting tweens and teens may not seem alarming, or even newsworthy. After all, any parent that can remember watching Saturday morning cartoons as a child knows that advertisers have been targeting children for years.

But the ads that appear on your teen’s or tween’s smartphone could be problematic. Targeted ads are meant to appeal very specifically to individual users. That means, for example, that a teen who is struggling with concerns over their weight could be targeted with weight loss ads, possibly encouraging unhealthy dieting or disordered eating in a teen with self-esteem issues. Ads that aren’t easily recognizable to young smartphone users as ads may especially affect their body image or self-confidence.

It’s important for parents to talk to tweens and teens about how to recognize marketing for what it is so that they don’t take it too seriously or personally. A child who can recognize a pitch from a social media influencer, for example, may be less likely to take their words to heart.

Tweens and teens also need regular breaks from social media and the advertising that goes with it. Imposing sensible limits on your child’s smartphone use can help keep them grounded and prevent them from getting too wrapped up in marketing messages. Parental control software can help you protect your kids from overzealous advertising. To find out how it works,  try it for free.

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