Learning to separate from the consumer machine isn’t much different than learning other languages in that the earlier you begin the more fluent you’ll be in the language of postconsumerism. That’s why this month, back-to-school month, we’re talking about ways to begin teaching lessons about consumerism to your children at various points in their development and their lives. Today, we’re setting the focus on one of the hardest points of intervention – middle school children.
How Middle School Children Are Exposed to Consumerism
The middle school years can be the most challenging years to combat consumerism with your child. Children in middle school are in the heart of the popularity ladder, the Queen Bee syndrome and trying to form their own identity in what can be the cruelest school years. Their need for “stuff” may be rooted in many issues that you as a parent aren’t getting access to seeing or knowing about. That means that while you should still take all of the opportunities that you can to separate them from addictive consumerism and the media machine, you’ll want to find a gentle balance when you’re doing it. Middle school can be one of the hardest age ranges for a child, and you want to impart valuable lessons while not making a potentially rough time even rougher.
1. Make Back-to-School Shopping About Necessities
By middle school, your kids are old enough to know that back-to-school shopping is “a thing” and you as a parent may not be able to keep them entirely away from the wrong perspective on it. But you can minimize the consumer messaging by making back-to-school shopping about necessities like pens and notebooks (does anybody use those anymore?) or new shoes rather than allowing it to become an event where your child buys trendy clothes or a new backpack each year if not needed.
2. Have Your Child Explain Why He or She Wants Things
Middle school years are also an age when your child will often ask for things simply because other kids have them. Whenever your kid comes home from school and asks you to buy something for them, ask them why. Make it a rule that they need to have a better reason than simply “because everybody else has it.” This will at least begin the process of your child thinking critically about what they buy and why.
3. Create Hard Count Limits for Stuff per Month
Get your child used to the idea that “stuff” should have limits. Give them a hard count limit to how many items (clothing, games, toys, etc.) you will buy for them per month. Once they’ve met that quota, it’s game over. This will help your child to learn that the ability to buy stuff isn’t endless and should include some thought and planning.
4. Have Your Child Sponsor a Child or Family
Having your child sponsor a child from a developing nation or an underprivileged family at the holiday times will ensure that your child understands that not all families and children have the luxury of buying “stuff” just because they want to. This will help to make your kids more grateful for the things that they do have and open their eyes that the entire world does not revolve around the quest for things.
5. Have Your Child Save For His Or Her “Must Have” Items
At any age, having your children earn and save for their own items will give them a better sense of the value of those items. Of course, the younger you start, the more the message will resonate for years to come. Middle school children tend to be gaining a greater sense of money and its value, so having them save their own money for purchases they want not only helps them understand the value or lack of value of stuff, it also teaches them valuable monetary lessons.
6. Take Your Child Shopping at Goodwill Occasionally
The middle school years are a great time to take your child to the occasional shopping trip at Goodwill or another second hand store. If they learn early that second-hand shopping can be cool and fun, they’ll be more likely to consider it as an option later.
7. Enroll Your Child in Activities
The more that your child is stimulated by things other than “stuff,” the less that he or she will begin to focus on “stuff.” We do want to give a word of warning that you may go too far in the other direction, however. There are plenty of studies that suggest that today’s kids are overscheduled and over-stressed. Find a healthy balance of activities and rest for your children, but keep them involved so that they learn about the satisfaction of “doing” early on.
8. Do Upcycling Crafts with Your Child
Middle school kids are a super age for crafting projects. They’re still young enough to enjoy rainy day art projects but old enough to create more complex projects. Take some parent/kid time to do some upcycling crafts with your child. Be sure to include conversation about how the items you’re using are recycled or upcycled and how using recycled and upcycled resources is important. This not only helps teach your kid about reusing and repurposing items but also presents a great opportunity to nurture creativity.
9. Intervene During Commercials
Your middle school child is watching television, and while many middle schoolers are watching streams or recordings, some of what they’re watching is definitely real time (think sports). Be sure to watch with them (unsupervised screen time is bad screen time) and intervene during the commercials to show them the marketing techniques that are being used and educate them about the traps. They’ll roll their eyes, but they’ll remember.
10. Don’t Reward Successes with “Stuff.”
The most important thing that you can do with a child of any age is to be a great example and to not reward successes with stuff … even if it’s what they ask for. The entire paradigm of “things” being a stimulus or having a higher value than experiences or the satisfaction of enough starts at home. There are plenty of ways to reward your child for his or her successes without a trip to the mall, and the earlier we begin that process the easier and smoother it will be later on.
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Photo Credit: Henry de Saussure Copeland via Flickr