The “More, More, More” Epidemic
We live in an era of rampant consumerism. Raise your hand if you’ve ever caught yourself trying to keep up with the Jones’…or at the very least snuck an undercover look at what they’ve got to see how you stack up. Advertisements are everywhere in our lives: in magazines, on tv, on the internet, in the newspaper, in our mailboxes, on the side of the road… And marketers are turning their sights onto younger and younger crowds. Did you know that in many countries it is illegal to direct advertising efforts at kids under a certain age? Sadly, we don’t live in one of those countries. Marketers rely on the “nag factor” to sell their products: sending kids off to Mom and Dad hyped and salivating over the newest product (usually toys and food), so that they bug their parents to get it for them until Mom and Dad can’t take it anymore, and give in.
To put this into perspective, not that long ago, the average child had received 50 toys by his fifth birthday. In 1995, a similarly average child had received 500 toys by the same age. Yikes!
But many of us, as parents, are doing pretty well financially. If we can afford it, why would we say no? And if we can’t afford it, is it fair for our kids to suffer by not having the latest toys and gadgets all their friends do?
The reality is, though, that we don’t do our kids any favours by giving them whatever their hearts desire, without any thought or effort on their part. Childhood is a training ground, and we know that as adults, all these things we buy have to be earned and paid for. So if we just hand over $5 here and $20 there, we aren’t really teaching our kids about the realities of economics. Although we may want our kids to be happy and have the best we can offer them, that need for stuff to feel a sense of worth is not usually part of the message we intend to send.
If we live in a rampant consumer culture, we also live in a rampant debt culture. While our parents might have never even considered putting a purchase like a tv or a vacation on a credit card (and leaving it there for many months), our generation often sees it as an inevitable part of our financial reality. But when would we like to see this cycle of debt stop?
I want to give my kids the belief and confidence in themselves to know that if they want something, they have the ability to work for it and get it. When things come too easily to kids, they start to get lazy, and not only expect that things will always just come to them, but that they aren’t capable of achieving something without it being handed to them. That’s very disempowering. It robs kids of their self-esteem and confidence in their capabilities.
Alfred Adler, who defined the theory of personality and psychology that I use with my clients, believed strongly that pampering a child was worse than neglecting him. And when it comes to toys and other stuff, it is very easy to fall into that “pampering” category.
So now what? Now that we’ve decided that we don’t want to contribute to our children’s materialism, what do we do instead?
Start by talking with your kids about money. Talk about where money comes from, how it has to be earned, and how there has to be enough to cover the other necessities in life. Talk about needs versus wants, and how to have a healthy balance between them.
Give your kids an allowance, and allow them to spend the money however they want (within acceptable moral and legal limits, of course). This is their opportunity to test the waters. If we rescue them or make all their decisions for them, they miss that opportunity to make mistakes in a low pressure environment.
You can use “nag factor” opportunities to teach your kids about the lessons and values that matter most to you. Delayed gratification can be a tough lesson for kids, but saving their allowance teaches them the value in not spending every cent as it crosses their hands. It isn’t cruel and unusual punishment to resist buying a toy for your child so that she can save up her money and buy it herself. It’s an important lesson that we can’t always have what we want, when we want it. And that sometimes our wants change, so jumping in too quickly leaves us without money or opportunity to change our minds.
Teach them about saving and anticipating future needs, and about giving to charity. Help them decide how much of their money should be ear-marked for all of these different areas. Teach them about comparison shopping, about price versus quality, and about determining what will be worth the money. These are all things adults need to know, so help them out now before they have their first credit cards and full-time jobs and school loans.
Remember that you are your child’s biggest role model. Include your kids in appropriate financial decisions, and demonstrate through your good example what it means to be free of the burden of attachment to stuff.