Kim and Brian Levandowski MISLEADING ADS, WARY CONSUMERS

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The cost of popular toys has given Brian Levandowski, 8, an early education about money.

Kids today "are taught earlier about money and how important it is and how things you see on TV aren't always what they are," says his mother, Kim Levandowski.

The result is that Brian understands a lot more about purchasing decisions than the kids his mother remembers, including herself. "When I was a kid and couldn't have something, I'd whine. He doesn't whine; he understands," she adds.

Brian gets his exposure to the newest toys through TV spots and catalogs. He has a weekly allowance and Mrs. Levandowski tries to drive home the idea of saving money for bigger purchases in the future. But it doesn't always work.

"Sometimes I let him buy things that aren't really worth it ... so he'll learn and not just think I'm being the meanest mother when I say no," she says.

Brian concedes he sometimes gets annoyed when he buys a toy that breaks in two weeks.

Mrs. Levandowski doesn't see ads as complete put-ons but wishes marketers could be more upfront about their products. She and her husband, Kenneth, bought Brian a Nintendo Game Boy but didn't realize how expensive game cartridges and accessories would be.

The Levandowskis recently returned a light unit when they learned it wouldn't run without its own battery pack, separate from the one that runs the Game Boy.

Advertisers could make parents' jobs easier by making the purchasing options for such toys more clear, but the decision ultimately lies with the parent, Mrs. Levandowski agrees.

"They have a responsibility not to make it really misleading, but they're trying to sell a product. So I think it's up to the parents to make their children understand that this is a commercial, and this is what commercials are all about," she says.

She tries to explain the whys of her decisions to Brian. He gets the message. Mom's main rule about wanting what he sees on TV is, "Sometimes I can't buy it; it costs too much."

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