This is the final discussion in a “book club” series on Born to Buy by Juliet Schor, which focuses on consumerism issues and young children.
During this series, a lot of people wrote to me and asked why I was covering this book in such detail. One reader’s comment: “i get the point don’t expose kids to ads.” Saying that, though, is a really disturbing oversimplification of what’s being said here.
The point of this book is not to merely avoid exposing kids to ads. The point of this book is to show how pervasive marketing is in the lives of children. It’s not just television – it’s movies, video games, magazines, and so on. It’s about marketing to students in schools. It’s about even using children as marketers by having kids do the marketing work themselves, convincing their friends to try it and also to demand the product from their parents. Just shutting off the television isn’t enough.
I grew up with a sense that money was to be spent, not saved. If you had a windfall, the healthy response was to go buy something fun. In my house, we watched a lot of television – it was pretty much always on – and thus looking back I can see how the television repeatedly altered my views on things. Since it was perceived as the normal thing to spend money when you got it, and there were lots of messages floating around about the things a kid should want, I bought in big time.
The end result? I grew up and became a shopaholic and it nearly wrecked us. My story is one that a lot of people share, from the childhood of learning to want the things that were marketed to you to the early adulthood of spending like crazy to the crisis situation with tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt.
The key is that first step. I have at least some control over the lessons that my children take in, right now. They learn from my choices and from the things I choose to teach them. If I put a high value on consumer culture, they will, too. If I leave the television on and am influenced by it, they will be, too. If I don’t teach them that much of what they hear about products is pure advertising, they’ll believe the advertising and come home wanting products.
This book woke me up to one of the biggest responsibilities I have as a parent – or even as a citizen. I’m raising children who are going to be productive members of society one day, and they’ll be making choices for themselves based in part on the things I’ve taught them and showed them over the years. What am I teaching them? What am I encouraging society to teach them? What will they learn? These questions go way beyond avoiding ads and into something much more fundamental about building them into self-reliant people who will make good financial decisions throughout their life.
I certainly hope I’m teaching them the right stuff.
Here’s a checklist of all of the entries about this book:
The Changing World of Children’s Consumption
Playing Less and Shopping More
From Tony the Tiger to Slime Time Live
Nickelodeon and the Anti-Adult Bias
The Virus Unleashed
The Commercialization of Public Schools
Dissecting the Child Consumer
Inside the Child Brain
Who’s Responsible: Parents or Advertisers?
How Consumer Culture Undermines Children’s Well Being
Patterns of Media Use
Consumer Involvement as an Undermining Force
Empowered or Seduced?
The Invention of Modern Childhood