Showing posts with label consumerism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label consumerism. Show all posts

Combating Consumerism in Kids

Photo by Stuart Miles

Something that I see in my kids that really bothers me is their endless desire for “stuff.” There is always something they want, some item. My son usually wants a video game or a character for a video game like a Skylander, Disney Infinity figure, or an Angry Bird telepod. My daughter almost always has her eye on a doll- American Girl, Lala Loopsy, Ever After High, you name it. They always seem to be stuck on whatever item they’re craving. It’s all they talk about or ask for. It sort of creates an identity- you are what you have and you are what you want. It has even gotten to the point where if we ask them if they would like to go somewhere such as an arcade, a movie, or an indoor water park, they will ask if they can get a toy instead! If we do get them the toy, which is rare, they are only satisfied for about 24 hours at best before they start asking for the next toy. 

Our desire for material items is just like any other addiction. Every new toy just feeds the beast, that empty hole inside us that cries for more. This hole can never be filled because its very nature is to be empty and to desire more. It used to be that we did not get to know this terrible beast until we were adults handling money, but through advertising it has been awakened in even the youngest children. 

Toy manufacturers know all about this and so there are not just a few dolls in any line, there are tons of them. When my daughter was into Monster High, not only was there a doll for every character, but there were lots of dolls of every character. You’d have the Picture Day line, the Paris line, the Dead Tired line it never ends! Just look how many versions of Barbie there are. You can’t just get a Barbie doll and be done with it. No- you NEED all the different kinds of Barbies. What happened to getting one doll and treasuring it? 

It’s the same thing with the boy toys as with the girl ones. There are lots of versions of the same Ninja Turtle action figures: Battle Shell, Stealth Tech, Throw and Battle, the list goes on. If you get a Skylander you can also get the same character in different colors or as special collector editions. 

It was not always this way with my kids. They used to know true joy and didn’t have to try and seek it out in overpriced plastic. I blame myself because this is a direct effect of my not overseeing them enough for the last year. I know what has to be done and I decided to publish this list in case anyone else is looking for similar solutions. 

1) TV is the Enemy. I have analyzed this to death and it is 100% dead on. The more kids watch TV, the more they want “stuff.” The commercials brainwash them. I have taught my kids about this and they can see and identify advertising tactics, yet it does not stop these tactics from working. Some advertisers hire anthropologists who specialize in child behavior to help them sell to kids. There are all kinds of focus groups and such going on at any given time so that companies know exactly what will make a child want something. Advertisers know exactly what they are doing and they do their jobs (too) well. Whether it’s a pillow pet, a slushie maker, or a plastic bat cave my kids want it. They also want the sugar coated colorful foods they see on TV. Take away the TV and you take away most of the consumerism in one fell swoop. Over the summer, I was working a lot, more than I should have been, and my kids were watching a lot of television. They would have been outside if I had been able to be more attentive. Instead, they spent most of their time watching TV and took short breaks from TV throughout the day to go outside. It should have been the other way around! Since school started they still have been watching too much. After school and activities they wind up in front of the screen again. Personally, I want to cancel cable. If they must watch a little TV, they can use Netflix or watch PBS. What I used to do when I was a better mom was limit TV to the weekends. This made TV fun again because it wasn’t always on. 

2) Internet is the Other Enemy. The web might even be worse than the TV at this point. With the Internet, ads are targeted right at your particular kid. They watch your kid, they see where she goes online and what she searches for, and they advertise accordingly. All around any webpage are ads in the form of pictures and videos dancing around, begging to be clicked. This is not just the case with the computer- it’s also the iPod, the cell phone, and the tablet, too. Even a game of Angry Birds is littered with commercials. Limit “screen time” in the form of games and Internet to an hour a day (or less) of supervised use. By supervised, I mean I want to know what you are doing with your electronics and I want to be in the room with you if possible while you are using them. 

3) Friends and Envy. I don’t know what to do about this one, but another cause of consumerism in kids is seeing what their friends have. If a friend has a new toy, my kids want it now, too. Petitioning other parents not to buy their kids anything new probably isn’t an option, so I think the best thing to do is to pay attention to what the kids do and talk about with their friends. Some friends are more about playing games and having fun while others like to compare stuff and talk about their next purchases. When they are with other “consuming” kids, it might be a good idea to plan something fun for them to do to get them out of shopping mode and back into playing. 

4) Keep Reinforcing Values. Whether it is religious beliefs, living an environmentally conscious lifestyle, or doing charity work, kids need to know there is more to life than just shopping and acquiring material things. They need to connect to something bigger than toys and dollars. They need to know that there are more important things in life and bigger problems to tackle than just coming up with the money for another game. This does not typically work as much or as fast as shutting off the television, but this tactic is for the long haul. This builds a foundation for the future and begins to replace some of the faulty values. Recommendations:, Church, volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House and the animal shelter, raising money for causes. 

5) Learn to Have Fun Again. Buying new stuff is a high, one that doesn’t last very long and leaves you wanting more. Real fun gives a natural and long lasting euphoria with wonderful memories that last a lifetime. Hiking, indoor rock climbing, cooking together, going to a ceramics class, sports, board games, and science experiments are all great ways to replace getting something with doing something. This has been one of the hardest things for me in the last year or so because I have gotten busier and it is just so easy at the end of a long day to “veg” with the kids watching a movie. Even on the weekends, it is simple to stroll through the mall or go to a movie, both of which are the worst things to do when trying to combat consumerism! I know when I push myself to play a board game or take the kids on a bike ride I feel better. It is just getting through that initial feeling of being tired that is the hard part. 

6) Be the Example. Like my hero Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We have to be what we want our children to become. If all we do is browse catalogs, discuss our next purchases, and try to keep up with the Joneses, it will be impossible for our children to do anything differently. We are victims of advertising as much as our kids are and many of us have become so busy and tired that when we are home with our families we are glued to the couch watching TV. Going out with the family is often spent running errands which usually equates to shopping. We need to rediscover for ourselves what we find fun in life and we need to reevaluate our own priorities and live accordingly. For me, I need to spend less time online. My husband and I spend a lot of time on the computer both for work and for entertainment. How can we expect our kids not the do the same if we are not displaying any other options for them? I can honestly say I am not much of a consumer, unless you count food shopping, but I think (worry) about money more than I should. Money should take a backseat in all of our lives. Our kids will be happier as a result. 

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