Born to Buy: Consumer Involvement as an Undermining Force

This is the fifteenth discussion in a “book club” series on Born to Buy by Juliet Schor, which focuses on consumerism issues and young children. You can jump back to the first discussion if you’d like. This discussion covers the final portion of the eighth chapter, “How Consumer Culture Undermines Children’s Well Being,” starting at the subheading “Statistical Results: Consumer Involvement Undermines Children’s Well-Being” on page 167 and continuing until the end of the chapter on page 176.

born to buyThree days ago, we talked about how kids absorb a reasonable level of media and also generally have a good relationship with their parents. However, in both cases, there were children far out on the long tail – some kids absorbed a huge amount of television, for example, and some kids had a poor relationship with their parents.

What was unclear is whether these two sets were related, a question answered by Schor in the final part of the chapter.

A Strong Correlation Between Media Exposure and Well Being
Right off the bat, Schor confirms it on page 167 (my own emphasis added):

The [statistical] estimates provide strong support for our hypotheses. High consumer involvement is a significant cause of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and psychosomatic complaints. Psychologically healthy children will be made worse off if they become more enmeshed in the culture of getting and spending. Children with emotional problems will be helped if they disengage from the worlds that corporations are constructing for them. The effects operate in both directions and are symmetric.

Here it is in a nutshell, folks: there is a direct relationship between the time your kids spend watching television and playing video games and their emotional, psychological, social, and physical health. The more time they spend with media sources, the worse off they’ll be.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to every child, but the correlation is very statistically significant. Schor spends a big part of this section focusing on the statistical evidence for this and it’s strong – p-values approaching .5 in some cases, for all of you statistical junkies. That’s a strong correlation.

A Strong Correlation Between Parental Involvement and Attitude and Well Being
Similarly, there’s a very strong correlation between parental involvement and the well-being of the child. From page 171:

The descriptive data show that the Boston children articulate extremely positive attitudes toward their primary parents. These attitudes may form a protective shield against the negative portrayals of parents in consumer culture and insulate these children from the kinds of conflicts found among the suburban kids. By contrast, although Doxley children are also positive about their parents, they are less so. They report more fighting with their parents about issues of access to consumer culture.

As an aside, throughout this chapter it was made rather clear that the Boston parents were more involved in the day-to-day life of their children than the Doxley parents. The Doxley parents seemed to be more focused on involving the kids in a mountain of extracurriculars, carting them off to soccer practice all the time, for example. That time lost to the extracurriculars was replacing time with the family, as the Doxley kids only had slightly less media use time than the Boston kids.

The statistics given by Schor are again quite strong, exhibiting a very strong relationship between parental involvement and attitude and children’s well being. There was almost a direct correlation here – the kids that spent more time with their parents did better, especially if their parents were genuinely involved and interested in their children.

What Parents Can Learn
The take-away message from this entire study can be summed up in one sentence: instead of letting your kid watch television or read magazines by themselves, take them out in the yard and play catch with them or play a board game with them or take them for a walk in the woods. That’s what being a parent is really about, and in this chapter, Schor statistically demonstrates that doing this will benefit your child. Not only that, I’ve found over and over again that quality time with your children can benefit you personally as well – it’s a win-win.

Just spend good quality time with your kids, do it regularly, and make that time come out of the time you’d spend watching television. You’ll all benefit from it.

The next discussion, coming in two days, will cover the entire ninth chapter, “Empowered or Seduced?”, starting on page 177.