This post first appeared on Right About Money.

Facebook and Google and YouTube, oh my! Big internet companies are after our attention, and our money. They know us better than we know ourselves, and one result is that they are delivering a steady stream of content that persuades us to act in ways that may not be in our best interest.

We have given them everything they need. We do this every time we logon and chat, search, or view. These activities basically tell them just what’s on our mind—all the time.

This is called “brain hacking” and the big Internet companies are good at it. They know us. They know what we want—but maybe not so much about what we need. Our ability to self-control; to delay gratification has never been more important.

To understand how brain hacking works, USAToday contributor Roger McNamee recounts a story where “someone at Facebook told advertisers that they had the ability to target teens who were sad or depressed, which made them more susceptible to advertising.” McNamee goes on to explain that Facebook once demonstrated its ability to make users happy or sad by manipulating their news feed.

Ready to learn how to help your students protect their brain from getting hacked?

Teach them to delay gratification. Self-control will be their first line of defense. And yes, it is a game. The CEO of Netflix told USAToday that sleep is his primary competitor!

Explain to students that these companies and their desire to grow by selling them things they will never need will never change. It is the kids who must change. They need to strengthen their willpower and learn to avoid impulse purchases. This is tough enough at the mall. It is extra difficult when the seller knows just how they think. Kids must be shown how to cool off and reflect.

Teach them the difference between needs and wants—and to always apply that standard at the point of purchase. Have them stop and count to ten. Needs are a no-brainer. They are things like food and clothes. Wants are just about everything else. They are not to be avoided, but should be planned for.

For younger students, show them how to make extra money for a “want” by, for example, taking part in something like National Lemonade Day on Aug. 20. For older students, a part-time job will help them earn what they want to spend.

Have them make a list of wants and needs and tape it to their computer—right in their line of sight so they have no choice but to be reminded of their goals. This list will help them reflect before they one-click their way into a bad choice. Have them search online for something and report back on how many ads they saw in the process. This will drive home the lesson that Facebook, Google and YouTube aren’t just cool, fun and convenient; they are clever businesses watching our every move and ready to pounce for profit.

Susan Beacham
Written by Susan Beacham

Susan Beacham founded Money Savvy Generation in 1999 after almost two decades in private banking and investment management complemented by considerable time teaching at the elementary level.

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