Friday, 8 May 2009

Lil' consumers

Thanks to a bung neck, I've spent today at home, and I happened to see a bit of kids' TV. At 4.30, whatever programme was on announced, 'Last week we showed boys how to dress - this week, we'll show girls how to put on make up!'.

Hmmm, I thought - body image pressure has gone equal opportunity. But it got so much worse. The next scene featured a girl of about 14, being taught by a specialist how to apply cosmetics - well over $100 worth, I would guess. The whole thing functioned as an infomercial for a particular brand of cosmetics, and although the girl featured in it was a young teenager, the programme seemed to be pitched at younger girls.

Kids don't need more peer pressure. They don't need more body image stress. What they do need, obviously, is a whole lot of money. I'm not going to launch into one of those rants that start, 'In my day...' - but it seems to me that the pressure on kids to consume has become far greater in the last 20 years or so. As a 'tweenie', I didn't have that much discretion over what I wore or owned, or much money of my own. I got some say in the clothing my mum bought for me, but ultimately, this was decided by the need to live on a slim budget. Other kids in my social milieu might have had a bit more in the way of consumer goods, but to own an extensive range of make-up at age 14 was unheard of.

Who's supposed to pay for this stuff? Either kids are more likely to have part-time work these days, or their parents are shelling out. It's enough to make me dread my own kids growing older. Already, my seven year old feels she needs a cellphone, although she really has no use for it.

The ability to consume, or not, matters a lot to kids and teenagers - it's a time in your life when peer pressure is acute. I just don't want to buy into this (pun intended). When my daughter asks for something frivolous, my first impulse is to say no. Often, though, I end up giving in: I feel guilty about my daughter feeling socially alienated because I have a political axe to grind. Yet, when I give in, I know the effect is simply to make some other kid feel bad that they can't keep up with the Joneses.

On behalf of our kids, I think we parents need to form a kind of fashion non-aggression pact. It seems to me that we do our kids no favours by letting them be placed under escalating pressure to consume - pressure that leads kids to compare themselves with one another, and try to stay ahead of their peers in the consumption game. By saying no to the consumption trend on our kids' behalf, we might help deflate the pressure to buy, get our kids to question the ethics of our consuming culture, and save ourselves a small fortune in the process.


Mouse said...

This is something I am really worried about, although my son is not even a year old. His father brought him "hey kidz, buy this book", which is apparently really good for helping kids to deal with a consumer culture.
Here's hoping it helps a little bit!

Anna said...

Thanks for the suggestion Mouse! This stuff worries me for a bunch of reasons, and one of them is the environmental consequences of kids learning to consume and discard stuff on such a grand scale. Seems like the exact opposite of what we should be doing...

katy said...

Hey parents, what is a good gift for little kids?? I am "on tour" in a few months and will be meeting the preschool offspring of a few friends, do you have any suggestions as to the kinds of gifts that you welcomed when your kids were little??

Anna said...

Tricky ... kids get given so much junky, plasticky stuff that it's hard to come up with something that'll impress or interest them. Today, my kids came back from McDonalds (yes, I know - I've betrayed my leftie principles) with a video game each, from their Happy Meals. Those were really expensive and exciting items when I was wee - now they come free with a shitty burger.

Anyway, my kids actually seem interested in more old-fashioned toys, simply because they're different from the run of the mill shite. My son (nearly 3) spends hours playing with lego or just simple old building blocks. My daughter (7) loves sudokus and word puzzles, and reads like a demon too. Both kids enjoy jigsaw puzzles. Admittedly, my kids are nerdy, but sports equipment is also a good, durable gift for some kids. A lot of old fashioned toys can be passed on from kid to kid - it doesn't just end up being more house-cluttering, environment-wrecking waste in the rubbish bin.

Here ends my rant.

Anna S said...

Hey Katy, my boys are 3 and 4, they love things like wind-up torches, bouncy balls - of a long-lasting, sturdy kind, and paper and pens.