We’re all trying to raise kids who are less vested in consumerism than the average person (or at least we presume that you are if you’re reading this website). This month, we’ve broken down the opportunities to do that based on what age range or school grouping your child is in. But no matter what age your child is, you’re a parent for the entire time and there are some lessons that you can teach them no matter how old they are. Here are ten consumer lessons for parents that can easily be passed on to your children.
1. It All Begins With Your Example
This advice, of course, is true no matter what it is that you’re teaching your child. Their relationship with consumerism is no different when it comes to the need for you to role model what you want them to believe and practice. You can’t expect your children to be wise to the consumer media machine and experience the satisfaction of enough instead of the compulsion to buy more, more, more if you’re regularly rushing out to sales and buying the latest trends and upgrades. Before your child can have a healthy relationship with consumerism, you need to. And you need to model it to them daily.
2. Experience Counts More than “Stuff”
You may be surprised how much your children appreciate experience gifts instead of “stuff” gifts. You may think that all they want is that game system, but when they find out that instead they’re getting tickets to see their idol in concert or their favorite sports team, they’ll forget all about hours of World of Warcraft. Starting with experience gifts early will allow your children to learn that satisfaction comes from living more and buying less.
3. Transparency is Important
While it pales in comparison to the role of the consumer media machine, a not insignificant part of what caused the consumer credit crisis is a lack of understanding about how finite resources and budgets can be. When you’re transparent with your child about the fact that money only goes so far so they should really prioritize what they want versus what they need when making purchasing choices, that lesson will last into adulthood. Don’t make how much money you have … and spend … a giant mystery to your children. Be transparent about it so that they understand the relationship at an early age.
4. There is No Child Who Should Have a Credit Card
At some point in the college years, your child will no longer need your assistance to get a credit card (which is why financial transparency is such an important thing to practice beforehand). However, before that, there’s really no need for a child to have a credit card. In fact, the effect is purely negative. While it’s easy to think that having a credit card at a young age will teach children to manage credit, the reality is that all it teaches them is to purchase on credit. That’s really not a lesson that you want them to learn.
5. Children Need to Learn to Earn
At pretty much every age, we’ve advised you to have your children save up to purchase their own big ticket items (though what qualifies as “big ticket” certainly changes with age). Whether it’s saving up their allowance, trading house chores for money or getting an after-school job, children who have to come up with their own finances for purchases will have an easier time understanding the value – or lack of value – of “stuff.” Especially when they realize all of the other things that they could spend that money on.
6. Children Should Always Be Able to Explain Why They Want or Need an Item
Peer pressure, celebrity endorsements and, for younger children, the inability to discern the difference between commercials and true programming, are all powerful tools in the marketing arsenal for the youth demographic. The best way to combat this, particularly with younger children, is to always ask them to express why they want or need an item. If the answer is “because everybody else has it” or “because my favorite celebrity uses it” then you have the opportunity for a teachable moment.
7. If They Watch It, You Should Watch It
You’re only going to know what consumer messages your child is receiving if you’re paying attention to the same things that he or she is. If they watch a TV show, you should watch at least a few episodes. If they participate on a social media site or app, you should at least be familiar with it. If they love a celebrity, you should know what type of consumer messaging they’ll be getting (hint: if they love a celebrity like the Kardashians, you are fighting an uphill battle). Much like you, your child is receiving pressures about consumerism through virtually every media channel. You need to know what those messages are to work against them.
8. Only Healthy Amounts of Screen Time
And of course, when it comes to limiting the influence of the consumer media machine, a media diet is as important for your kids as it is for you. The less you let the consumer media engine into your home, the less damage it can do. There are plenty of other benefits to limiting and controlling your child’s screen time (as well as your own), but we’ll save that topic for another time. And anyway, we think that limiting the consumer media machine’s influence is a pretty good and powerful reason.
9. Be Gentle. Being a Kid is Hard.
One of the most important things that you can remember is that no child ever grew up to reject the consumer media machine if his or her parents forced it on him or her in a way that made them feel ostracized and “like a freak” at school or socially. It’s hard being a kid, and in this era of social media it’s even harder being a kid than you probably remember. What will be hard for you as a parent will be finding a way to walk the fine line between teaching your kids that “stuff” isn’t everything and not causing them to reject the concept just because you hammered at it so hard. What’s the solution there? When we figure it out, we’ll let you know (and write a parenting book, too)!
10. Never Use “Stuff” as a Reward
The most important thing that you can do with a child of any age is 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.
Did we miss a tip for creating postconsumer kids that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.
Photo Credit: Russ Robinson via Flickr