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 what can either be a challenging time or a surprising time of growth and acceptance – the high school years.
How High School Children Are Exposed to Consumerism
We’re probably not telling you anything that you don’t already know when we say that high school kids are like mini-adults these days when it comes to what they’re exposed to. Your high school student is seeing and hearing all of the same media messages that you are, plus they’re getting intense peer pressure from school and classmates. As they strive to form their own identities, you may find them either completely resistant to postconsumer messages (what would parents know anyway?) or eager to embrace them as a part of their personal mantra. We’re hoping for the latter, and we wish you strength if it’s the former!
1. Make Your Child Accountable for Purchases
By the time high school rolls around, your teenager is certainly making some purchases on his or her own. Whether it’s with money from an afterschool job or with the allowance that you provide to your children, high school kids will go to the mall and buy things without your ever being involved in the loop. But try to make your high school student accountable for his or her purchases. When you see new items make their way into the house, talk to your teen about why they purchased the item, whether it was a good use of their money and what values they hold that the purchase does (or doesn’t) support. Just don’t be pushy or judgmental because, well, teenagers!
2. Have Your Child Explain Why He or She Wants Things
High school years are also an age when your kid will often ask for things simply because other kids have them. Whenever your kid comes home from high 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. Monitor Social Media (Within Reason)
There are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on your teenager’s social media accounts (within reason, you do want them to have some privacy). Add to those reasons that you can’t know what barrage of consumer messaging they’re being exposed to via social media if you’re not paying attention to it. We all realize that teenagers are spending more and more time interacting on social media networks that parents don’t even know about until it’s too late, so there’s only so much that you can do here. But know that social media is a hotbed of consumer pressures, your teenager is spending a lot of time on social media, and as a parent you need to have some idea of what messaging he or she is getting there.
4. Interact With Other Parents
Other parents may be your greatest allies in fighting the consumer brainwashing that your teenager is getting and giving. Yes, there are some parents out there who want their kids to “have it all” at any cost. But attempt to have open and honest conversations with your teenager’s friend’s parents about your views on addictive consumerism and what you’re trying to teach. You may find that they agree with you and that they’re happy to help reinforce your messaging when they interact with your teen. And you may be able to swap ideas with them on how to instill postconsumer thinking in each of your children (feel free to share this article with them!).
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. High school children are a short step away from having to manage all money without your supervision, so this exercise has even more added benefit. And, by the time your children are teenagers, the items that they want the most are likely much more expensive so the lesson is even more powerful.
6. Don’t Play the Upgrade Game
Even as adults, we tend to be susceptible to the “upgrade game,” particularly when it comes to electronics. Is your phone or laptop really “good enough” if it’s not the most recent version of the product? If adults are susceptible to this type of marketing, think how effective it must be for impressionable teenagers. The key to not playing the upgrade game for high school students is parents who toe the line and, more importantly, who lead by example. Your kid doesn’t need a new cell phone every nine months … and neither do you!
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. Teach Want vs. Need
“Want vs. Need” is a concept that even adults who are coming to postconsumerism (or just trying to get their budget wrangled in) still struggle with. It’s not our fault that we all struggle with it. We’re taught from an early age in affluent countries that instant gratification is important and that there really isn’t a distinction between want and need. As a parent, you have a chance to break that cycle by emphasizing the concept with your teen (but of course not in a nagging parent way). Make sure that your teen explains to you why he or she needs items that he or she claims to need. It’s okay for teens (and adults for that matter) to buy items just because they want them. But it’s more important that they understand the difference between what they want and what they actually need. They are not the same.
9. No Credit Cards for Kids!
All we can say is just please don’t do it! We understand the temptation. We even see the argument that it will make it easier for you to track your teen’s purchases and that it will ultimately teach your teenager how to use credit cards. But none of that is worth the message that your teenager learns about buying items on credit or spending more than they actually have. There’s no real benefit to the teen for the future if he or she has a credit card because it’s the whole idea of buying on credit that leads to more than half of most consumer issues (not to mention enormous debt). Your teenager doesn’t need a credit card and truthfully will learn more from managing actual cash.
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: Skokie Public Library via Flickr