Childrearing

My Kids Are Consumption Whores. Who’s To Blame?

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In his recent book, Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children, Joel Bakan explores the dirty topic of children as a target of corporations, providing new and powerful source of profits. For those of us that work in marketing, it’s not exactly shocking to see the lengths companies will go to manipulate consumers, including children, into believing that they must have a product or service.

In fact, extensive research is done into identifying emotional triggers (including how products are packaged and displayed), and the findings are used to uncover our buying “hot buttons.” Balkan explains that with the advent of television as entertainment, and the more recent rise of personal technology like iPods and tablet devices, marketers are getting direct access to kids – and savvier ways to rope them in.

As I see it, rampant consumerism can leave us as individuals, and as a society, broke and soulless. Looking around my house, the signs of rampant consumerism are everywhere; the latest computer, CDs, video games, books, accessories – and that’s even before I get into the kids’ stuff! If I’m going to be completely honest, I would have to say that barely a day goes by without a new “something” coming into our home, even if most of it seems harmless, like a used book for $2.99 or a Kinder Surprise toy.

All of the “stuff” is easy to justify for its cheap price, educational value or some other way I believe it can enhance our lives. Back in June, I purchased some JumpStart Math books to work on with my kids over the summer. Having heard great things about the JumpStart program, I ran out to buy the books with the intent of laying the foundation for great math minds. Three months later they sit unused, taunting me along with the rest of the “junk” that clutters my house and mind.

Books like Balkan’s place a lot of blame on corporations – they are pretty gross when you get into the nitty gritty of it – but it would appear that we are pretty easily manipulated as a species. I have no doubt that my children are rabid about consuming. As a kid with obsessive tendencies, my oldest son can fixate on a toy or game that he “must have” for days on end, only to discard it one or two hours after receiving it (I am not exaggerating). It would appear as though he is addicted to buying.

Should I be surprised? Not really. I love a new trinket as much as the next gal and with the addition of a husband and kids in my life, I have been able to expand my shopping repertoire. It doesn’t really count as shopping if you’re doing it for someone else, right? I have felt especially justified in purchasing anything that promotes exercise for the kids, and so the playroom is filled with unused Bounce It! balls and wobble boards while my boys sit upstairs playing Nintendo Wii.

I would like to think that the problem of child consumerism lies with the marketers but, in my heart, I know that I am the nail in the coffin. I can’t say no to a cute toy and am especially vulnerable to books of any kind. I don’t blame my kids for tiring of their new things in a matter of minutes; something new will likely be coming through the door the next day, even if it’s just some plastic piece of crap pulled from a Happy Meal.

When I was growing up, I would have to wait for my birthday or the holidays for that special something I had been dreaming of. The wait was part of the excitement. My kids have not ever had to wait more than a month or two for something they really wanted. Between grandparents, allowance and bribes, they are on the receiving end of a lot of stuff.

I often wonder what all this consumption is doing to my kids. Will nothing have meaning for them and will they ever be satisfied with what they have? How will they ever afford themselves? My husband and I have taken to declaring consumption-free days (this just completely puzzles the kids, who ask questions like, “Can we buy food?” and “But what if we need something?”). As much as I am horrified by the manipulation of children by marketers, I do believe that I can influence my kids’ buying habits if I really try hard. Or maybe I can just find the right book to buy on the subject…

(Photo: BananaStock)