online-advertisingOver half (60%) of 9-16 year olds go online either daily or almost daily. 66% of 3-5 year olds can play basic games online, according to a survey of ten countries by AVG. As children’s access to the internet steadily increases, there is also a growing consensus that young children in particular should be protected from strangers online… but does that extend to strangers trying to sell them toys and candy?

Are young children particularly vulnerable to the influence of advertisers? Or is it better for parents to simply teach children to be more critical? Furthermore, online advertising is a significant and growing industry in Europe (worth €27.3bn in 2013), at a time when the EU arguably needs all the economic growth it can get. Would such a ban damage a successful part of the economy?

As part of our Debating Europe Schools series, we’ve been taking questions from students from across Europe to policymakers and experts for them to answer. For today’s debate, we had questions sent in from students from the University of Leipzig, Germany, and the Debating Society of St. George’s International School, Luxembourg.

Curious to know more about the online advertising and legislation about advertising to children in Europe? We’ve put together some facts and figures about children and advertising in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).


Should some, or all, online advertising aimed specifically at young children be banned? To get a response, we spoke to Jonathan Kent, journalist and founder of Leave Our Kids Alone, a campaign calling for a ban on all advertising (not just online advertising) targeted at children under 11 years old. Why does he support a ban?

jonathan-kentBecause children’s brains and personalities are more fluid when they are young [and this] makes them more susceptible to advertising. They don’t have the mental toolset that older children and adults have to filter out things which are obviously wrong, and this makes them especially vulnerable to advertising.

I think it is true in most areas of Europe that, as a society, we are increasingly concerned about who comes into contact with our children… Yet advertisers do not act in the best interests of the people they are advertising to. They act in the best interests of the people who pay them to advertise stuff. That’s completely right and proper; if I pay somebody to do a job for me, then I want them to work for me. But it also means we are letting people come into contact with our children who really have no particular interest in our children’s well-being, but rather a commitment to sell their client’s stuff.

To get another perspective, we also asked Stephan Loerke, Managing Director at the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), to respond to the same question. What would he say?

Next, we had a comment sent in by Dianta, a student from the University of Leipzig in Germany. Dianta argued that young children have regular access to the internet via smartphones etc., and asked whether policymakers should therefore consider introducing classes at primary school level to raise awareness among students about privacy and online advertising. How would Jonathan Kent respond?

jonathan-kentAbsolutely. I think Dianta has a point, and I think it’s a very important one. Increasingly, these are life skills and, more broadly, I would like to see schools concentrating more on preparing students for life and not just for work…

Instead of just learning economic skills, students need to learn how to look after themselves, whether it is looking after their privacy on the web, or whether it is eating properly, exercising and so on, or expressing themselves creatively. It’s all part of a vital skill-set. So, yes, I would be very supportive of Dianta’s suggestion!

Finally, we had a comment sent in from a student from St. George’s International School in Luxembourg, asking whether the EU is proposing any specific legislation or guidelines on advertising aimed at children. We asked Stephan Loerke to reply:

Should online advertising aimed at children be banned? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – John Watson

48 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Paul X

    Why ban something for children that they will be subjected to for the rest of their adult life?

    Parents need to take the responsibility to educate their Children on what advertising is, what its aims are and most importantly, that they cannot have everything they want in life just because it looks pretty in an advert

    This is the problem with the “ban everything to protect children” brigade and also those who drone on about lifestyle subjects being taught at schools, it’s parents who have children and it is parents that should take the responsibility in educating them about the dangers of the world they live in.

  2. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    Again with the blanket banning.

    It should be left up to the nation States (& there the people) to decide and not an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels to dictate.

  3. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    They should… But they won’t… Because in a capitalist system they hard-wire us to be consumers from the minute we start make sense of the world that surrounds us.. That is how we all support this system.. We are exposed to consumerism as early as possible.. But technically it is immoral.. The pressure on the parents to provide is enormous!

  4. avatar

    Possibly, has it any value? It educational or social at all? I do not want war, or crashed cars.

  5. avatar
    catherine benning

    Of course there should be ‘no’ advertising aimed at children. Non at all. And my reason for this position is, because children are not adults. They should be free from the pressures of mass consumerism and the push to be adults before their time. What you get when kids are used to be money spinners is Hollywood infants with lives of misery often leading to suicidal thinking. I could name so many but if I do it will probably be censored, which will waste my time and yours.

    Additionally, if companies are unscrupulous enough to aim advertisements at children they are quite ready to sell them any line or lie to induce them to pressure the parents into buying items that are not suitable for them. Also many parents are not in a position to lay out hard cash for tripe. This then leads the children who have parents that cannot afford materialism to feel they are unworthy not loved as much and therefore second class citizens. They feel less than those who do get these things. This creates a sense of despair in hundreds of poor kids.

    And as another poster put it, this is deliberate in order to instill in young people a message that, as adults, they will also feel unworthy if they cannot spend on rubbish because it has been injected into their psyche when they were too young to sift it out as trash.

    All adverts to a greater and lessor degree lie to get a sale. Do you want your kids used this way? Examples follow.



  6. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    yes the child is not a product of misleading advertising

  7. avatar
    Tony Kunnari

    When we, the people together go for the bigger picture, no form of advertisement, in its current ‘oversize’ and near-imaginable reach to say the least, is needed.

  8. avatar

    I see the advertising bombardment aimed at early stages of development of a child as “vaccination”. Besides, that the whole deal is about parents money. I think overtime the concept of advertising have the opposite effect and most of the growing ups are becoming “immune” to aggressive/intrusive advertising.

  9. avatar

    No, it shouldn’t.

    Advertising and the sheer volume of it is a reality of today’s information age. Children need to learn how to deal with it just as they do with anything that makes life difficult in the real world. Protecting children now through law means that once that law stops protecting them on a threshold age, they may not be able to effectively deal with it later on.

    Yes, advertising has side-effects, just like any information bombardment has on a human. That’s why it’s important to face it and let the parents handle it because your child is in your care, you can’t run to the state and expect it to do your job for you whenever a new (or rather old, child-aimed advertising isn’t something new, it just grew in intensity as we now have new media for distribution).

    And remember, just as we have new media for distribution due to technology, we also have new ways to deal with it. It may well be true that being a bit more tech-savvy should be part of the job description of a parent in today’s world.

  10. avatar

    Yes. There is also a reason we don’t let children drive. As a society we take responsibilty. To Andrew, yes we prepare them for life, we don’t simply throw them in the deep end and expose them to everything under the sun. To think young children have the cognitive reasoning to analyse the messages aimed at them is naive. Aim the adverts at the parents, if they have to, and lets not forget the simple fact that it’s not the children who have to pay for it, which ends up being lazy marketing as advertisers know full well the power of pestering. It’s so blatantly deceptive it’s unethical.

  11. avatar
    Shelby R.

    Banning online advertising aimed at children will not work. By now we all should all know all our efforts with banning online or television advertising aimed at children will all be in vain, it’s the 21st Century and we should be focusing on bullying and more common problems. We should all give up on banning these types of advertising, and start on political problems, like ISIS and all these terrorist attacks! Not that i’m saying that we should ignore our youth and what types of advertising they witness, but at the same time I am. Children should be brave and mature enough to tell their parents what they see on TV and online. While parents should be brave enough to give their children a firm ‘No.’ and be done with it, all of these ‘Should advertising aimed at children be banned’ and ‘Should advertising be banned?’ polls should all just stop wasting their time and focus on their jobs, children, and family! Thank you for taking you’re time to read my argument, and I look forward to seeing everyone else’s reasonings.

  12. avatar

    this is ridiculous online adverts should be banned

  13. avatar

    The fact is advertising happens, and the marketing/advertising industry uses children as targets because it’s easier. Perhaps people who feel it ridiculous to ban online advertising to children should do a little more research into the affects it has on children in relation to their cognitive development.
    This is also much broader than children and parents being brave in making decisions, which I agree they should; it’s also about an industry acting responsibly and not wilfully using stealth techniques to manipulate those more cognitively vulnerable. It’s tantamount to psychological bullying and I fail to see how freeing children from this mental manipulation can’t be a good thing for society.

    • avatar

      And Cameron for that matter.

    • avatar

      Everything is every European’s concern!

  14. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    YES! Advertising to children is unethical! It should be heavily regulated. Why are films rated by age and not advertising?

  15. avatar
    Olivier Dutreil

    Yes but you are not paid to discuss all issues which are of national dont do well about your competence so focus on that please

  16. avatar

    YES! Advertising to children is unethical! It should be heavily regulated if not prohibited!
    Why are films rated by age and not advertising?
    We do know that cigarettes and alcohol would have been sold to children had not conscious adults intervened and made laws prohibiting it.

  17. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    Advertisers know that by repeating suggestions they have a high probability of creating a desire in a person. However the younger the potential customer is, the more effective, easier and quicker it is to create a strong desire. Therefore there needs to be responsibility in how frequent and what is advertised. The younger the age, the less ads. Also a balance in the ads, for example a requirement for a mix of ads with social advice mixed in. For example, health, nutrition, safety advice, recycling etc

  18. avatar
    René Aga

    Children should see more interesting things for them online to develop their skills and educate them to citizens.

  19. avatar
    Valentin Rotaru

    Meh, nothing bad in advertising for kids : as long is it advertising toys ,games and some educational stuff it’s nothing bad…

  20. avatar

    Silly willy, obsessed with banning everything, do you want to create the europeans some sort of sterilised robot? Sure, certain things needs to be banned but now you are exagerating…

  21. avatar
    Yordan Vasilev

    Yes, definitely! Because the children have no grown minds nor any life experience.

    • avatar

      No Thanks, its the people like you that think we don’t….. We are all human no matter what age… Understand that….

  22. avatar
    Claudio Bartoletti

    with all the rot in Euro one, idiot brussels have to focus on issues like childrens advertising, size of mussels, making cheese from powder milk etc etc, it is a nightmare led by incompetent people, united europe has nothing united about it, they cannot even agree on how to combat ISIS… YOU MAKE ME LAUGH.

  23. avatar

    I think yes, as sometimes those advertisements are not suitable or appropriate for children. This could ruin the child’s brain up. And they could be left with an emotional scar. Also, childhood is not an app so you shouldn’t put adverts in it.

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