How to Teach Kids to be Savvy Consumers

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Evan Arnold-Gordon
Golden Gate Better Business Bureau

Children are exposed to advertising more than ever in today’s day and age. From their favorite television shows to games they’re playing on their smartphones, there’s no shortage of companies trying to clickbait them.

Teaching children to be wary of advertisements at an early age is vital to ensure they’re able to identify what is legitimate and what could be a scam. As technology continues to evolve, so too will the ads. One of the best ways to teach children is to engage them, which is why the Better Business Bureau is encouraging parents to have an open dialogue and discuss what they’re seeing.

The following tips from your BBB will help children become successful participants in the marketplace:

  • Give an allowance. The best way to become a smart consumer is through practice. One way to help children learn is by providing them with an allowance. This will teach them about money management. Encourage them to save a certain amount every month and talk about the difference between needs and wants. When their savings allow them to buy a special treat at the end of the year, the lesson will be learned. Although it’s tempting to set limits around purchasing; plus setting too many limits may hinder a child’s understanding of money management. Learning through trial and error is key. Allowing kids to have purchasing power can teach them the value of money, and may help them take better care of their possessions.   
  • Talk about ads. It can be very difficult for children to understand what is, and isn’t an advertisement. These days, ads are embedded into apps and games, and their favorite video bloggers are being paid to promote certain products (and aren’t disclosing it). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) “has a long history of protecting children from unfair and deceptive marketing practices”, but bad ads can still slip through the cracks, and kids need help. When you’re with a child and see an advertisement, talk to them about the ad and help them think critically about it. What is it selling? How is it being sold? How does it make you feel? This will help them recognize ads and lessen their effect. It’s also smart to teach kids to look out for deceptive advertising techniques. The BBB AdTruth website,, has great resources to help people of all ages learn about advertising, report bad advertising, and think before responding impulsively to an advertised offer.
  • Model good behavior. Children learn by example, and they look up to the adults in their life. One of the best ways for parents and other adults to create learning lessons is by watching advertisements with kids. Exercise restraint when making “want” purchases, and save for your future. Show them that you don’t lose money to unethical businesses or scams. Do your research at before engaging with a business to make sure you’re making an educated decision, and stay up to date on recent scams by checking out BBB Scam Tracker periodically.
  • Earning money. It’s a good idea to open up a savings account for a child to help them learn about interest and the “free” money that they can earn from saving. Paying a few dollars for extra chores around the house can teach kids about the value of hard work which they can in turn spend on a company they’ve done research on. Encourage a child’s entrepreneurial spirit, but also make sure to teach them about business ethics. Show them the BBB Standards for Trust and help them understand the importance of all eight Standards.
  • Report a suspicious advertisement. CARU, or The Children’s Advertising Review Unit, is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation and is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. CARU monitors thousands of television advertisements and patrols the Internet for compliance with CARU’s “Self-Regulatory Program for Children’s Advertising.” When ads appear to be noncompliant with CARU’s guidelines, CARU opens cases and works with advertisers to modify advertising messages. To learn more about CARU, for a copy of its guidelines, or to place a consumer complaint relating to an advertisement, please visit

You can reach your BBB at or (510) 844-2000, or by visiting