OK, so what’s a parent — who needs more than a slingshot to battle the giants — to do? You can start by blocking consumerist channels. Or sitting down and watching your teens’ favorite shows with them to see what’s really going on.
You can counter the pressure of consumerism by helping your teens understand how susceptible we all are to advertising. Take product placement, which took off in 1982 when the movie “E.T.” portrayed the irresistible little alien following a trail of Reese’s Pieces. Within two weeks of the movie’s release, sales for the obscure candy shot through the roof.[...]
Your teens probably think as they watch TV that they’re the customer and that the ads they watch display the products being sold. Not so. For television networks, the customers they serve are their advertisers. And the product sold is the viewer.
That’s why the cost for a commercial can vary from $19 for a 30-second daytime spot on a local cable channel to $2 million for the same amount of time during the Super Bowl, which attracts the largest television audience every year. The price paid by customer/advertiser is based on the number of viewers during that time slot — the same way we buy meat by the pound.
Encourage your kids to look at commercials with a critical eye, identifying what factors underlie the message: guilt, greed, manipulation, fear, flattery, status-seeking
And one final thought: Teens cannot learn to control their impulses for more, more, more if we say yes, yes, yes. Even if you have the money to buy your child everything he wants, it’s really not the loving thing to do.
All of this is good advice, but there's one additional piece of the consumerist puzzle that I think needs to be addressed (and, to be fair to Barbara Curtis, it's sort of outside the scope of her piece). It is, simply, that we parents and our attitudes toward consumerism will have a definite impact on our children, and may, in fact, have the greatest impact of all.
As is often the case in the parenting world, this is true whether we are impulsive spendthrifts or carefully thrifty (or no matter where we fall in between). A child of thrifty parents who is involved in and understands his parents' approach toward consumerism and is able to see the rewards of thriftiness will probably grow up to be thrifty himself; but a child of thrifty parents who is told "No," without explanation when he asks for certain things, who constantly feels deprived of the sorts of toys or games his friends have without understanding at all the reasons why this is so, and who sees what appears to him to be hypocrisy in that his parents will buy the occasional expensive item for themselves (even if it is needed for work, for instance) will quite possibly grow up to be more of a spendthrift and even to resent thriftiness as a tool of unfair parental control.
Similarly, the child of spendthrift parents may adopt their attitudes and values about money and spending, or he may dislike some of the consequences such as unpaid bills, threatening phone calls from bill collectors, and the occasional deprivations of things the family really needs.
It's not that hard to guess how children might be affected by their parents' attitudes towards consumerism and spending in the more extreme cases. But what about those who try to be balanced, to spend and save, to avoid the hype as much as possible and to be responsible consumers?
I think the first question we need to ask is: are we really balanced? Do we really spend to much or save too little? Do we really avoid the hype, or are we constantly intrigued by the newest, latest, greatest things? Are we really responsible consumers, or do we try not to pay too much attention when we hear of sweatshop conditions or violations of human rights?
How important are things in our lives? Do we pride ourselves, say, on dressing simply or eating plainly, but rush out to buy the newest iPhone (tm) or similar device? Do we begin to complain about a computer, television, music player, etc. that still works perfectly fine just because it is a few years old, and better ones have come out since we bought ours? Do we women covet the latest styles in shoes or handbags, and look down on people who buy their shoes or handbags at discount big-box stores? Have we, indeed, ever judged others because they don't have what we do--have we looked down on them for not driving the right sort of car or wearing the right sort of clothing or carrying the right sort of gizmo or gadget?
How susceptible are we to advertising and to peer pressure? Do we find ourselves needing something we never knew existed just because a shiny catalog featuring the item showed up in our mailbox one day? Do we try very hard to keep up with the Smiths or the Jonses, even though our lives aren't really that alike? Do we complain aloud about the things we don't have?
Have we fallen for that most insidious of all consumerist calls, the call to simplify our lives which somehow requires us to get rid of 3/4ths of what we own and then replace it all with simpler, humbler, more well-crafted, more organized and more meaningful stuff?
Our children are watching us. The way we answer these questions, many of which I need to work on myself, is going to impact how susceptible they are to the siren-song of consumerism when they enter the adult world.