Advertising, Our Children, and Consumerism
Where do we American consumers come by the sense of entitlement and consumerism that is reflected in our buy now, pay later attitude toward credit and debt? Many of us were raised on it. And now so are our children.
As early as 1931, a White House Conference on Child Health and Protection encouraged parents to take children shopping to pick out their own things. This exercise was to have the advantage of building personal pride in ownership and to teach the child that the personality can be expressed through things. Really! They thought this was a good thing! Fast forward to today at the grocery check out lane – where you’ll see the result of years of creative ideas, social and economic development, marketing research, and financial resources all focused within one child’s cry of “Please Mommy, I reeeeaaaally want it!”
Advertisements now place themselves and the watching children in a conflict situation between the ‘good and helpful’ product and the “bad” mommies and daddies who say ‘no’. By the time a parent realizes the impact on their child, there is real potential for the parent to have been taken out of the equation of the development of a child’s sense of self, values, and peer relationships. Your child also learns that personal choice is consumerism is personal choice - there is no difference.
If you’ve ever been a child you will remember advertising and merchandising efforts focused on you - the Batman lunchbox, Barbie and GI Joe commercials on Saturday mornings, and who didn’t want a slip-n-slide, hoola hoop, or Big Wheel (some of us are still bitter). Now multiply that and bring it to school with product sponsorship programs and fundraising.
There are many different battlefronts for parents to be aware of today (including smoking, drug usage, staying in school, bullies, sexual predators, and so on) that one begins to wonder just how important an issue consumerism is. However, looking long term we see that more 19 - 24 year olds are filing bankruptcy at a faster rate than any other age group. Many of these young adults did not understand credit and debt, nor did they understand how to respond to the beliefs and assumptions developed through advertising bombardment. If asked, they most likely would deny believing that a specific brand of cosmetics would make them more beautiful or that a certain car would make them more successful. But who among us would admit that the newest electronic gadget would 1) improve our memories 2) make us better communicators 3) organize our fast paced chaotic lives or 4) simply make us look cool. Nevertheless, our behaviors say something different.
So the challenge we face then is this: how to instill in our children the understanding that possessions don’t make the person, that the person with the most toys doesn’t always win, how to develop a sense of self that is not connected to consumerism, while avoiding the disappointed child and guilty parent syndrome.
What you can do:
Of course, the holidays are an important time to help your kids set limits on consumerism. Help him or her ‘do’ something nice for someone rather than ‘buy’ something nice. Plan activities with them based on your family’s values, not materialism. Remember, if your feeling overwhelmed with the ‘buy now, buy lots’ holiday spirit, your children probably will be too. Talk to them about it. Discuss value compared to cost. Maybe you’ll both agree there are more important things this year...than just things.
*Statistics collected from the National Institute on Media and the Family website.
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