As a market segment, teenagers control hundreds of billions of dollars in disposable income, as well as considerable sway over their parents’ spending habits. The scope of teens’ financial resources makes them an attractive target for advertising and marketing. While the business case for advertising to teens holds on financial grounds, teen-targeted advertising raises concerns about possible detrimental long-term effects.

Spending Habits

Teens tend to spend more impulsively than adults do because they lack the financial obligations that make budgeting and long-term financial planning such a necessity for adults. Advertisers who capitalize on this can reinforce this type of impulsive buying habit, contributing to a spend-now-consider-later financial approach the teen consumer might carry into adulthood. Teens are normally limited by the amount of money in their bank accounts, but those with credit cards and impulsive spending habits can flirt with financial chaos.

Reinforcing Insecurity

Teenagers are a particularly vulnerable segment of the population. Unlike adults, who usually have a clear sense of identity, teens tend to have fluid self-identities and self-images. This contributes to insecurities, particularly about appearance and acceptance. Advertisers play on this in targeting teenage girls for skincare and beauty products. Ads frequently present an unrealistic standard of beauty or simply offer a product as a stand-in for the social skills necessary to gain acceptance. When the products fail to deliver the desired results, it reinforces the insecurity that drove the purchase.

Sexualizing Teens

The development of sexual identity and perceptions about sexuality largely occur during the teenage years. Advertisements directed at teens often feature hypersexualized images that can give young people the wrong impression of what constitutes a healthy sexuality and what they can expect from one another.

Other Concerns

Much of advertising glorifies extreme gender roles. A commercial that shows men acting in an excessively masculine way by driving a pickup truck through challenging terrain, for example, presents an atypical image of masculinity. Commercials that show women primarily as shoppers also present an atypical image of femininity. Such extreme gender imagery may leave some teens with a long-term view of masculinity or femininity that real life won’t allow them to fulfill and that may contribute to a general sense of failure or dissatisfaction.