Updated on 04.30.08

Born to Buy: Consumer Involvement as an Undermining Force

Trent Hamm

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.

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  1. Andy says:

    The statistics are interesting, although the overall conclusion is not particularly stunning. The statistics on spending time with parents vs. involving your kids in extracurriculars is surprising though.

  2. We do not let our kids watch live television unsupervised. This is NOT the TV I grew up with. It is a sad state now…

    Wonderful series! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. Saving Freak says:

    Spending time with parents gives kids such a grounding. Some of my favorite memories were the times my father and I spent together. The experiences were not really all that exciting but the time spent talking and learning from him hold a special place in my memory.

  4. Heather says:

    I’d also like to note that time doing chores with children “counts.” Meal preparation and clean up is a great example. When parents and kids work together, not only is there a feeling of investment in the final product (the meal or a clean kitchen) there is time for general chit chat. Not every bonding moment has to be a child focused or planned activity, simply an activity where a child and a parent is involved.

  5. Lenore says:

    I’m child-free by choice, but it seems the main barrier to parents spending “quality” time with their kids is being too busy eeking out a living and maintaining a household. Many people in this hectic culture are chronically stressed and sleep-deprived, so how can they whittle out time for a walk or games with their children? No doubt these activities are healthier than TV for everyone, but I can see why exhausted parents zone out on the couch or rely on the boob tube (or extracurricular activities) as a babysitter while they attend to chores. Some of my best memories of time with my parents are when they let me help (even when I was more of a hindrance) with mundane tasks. Learning how to clean house, tinker in the garage or cook can be just as psychologically edifying as leisurely pursuits. Sure, it can take more energy to supervise than to just do something yourself, but maybe if parents view these “teachable” moments as vital and valuable interaction, they’ll end up with trained assistants to lighten their loads and happier chldren. Seems like everybody wins if it’s done with love and patience. So put those rugrats to work–it’s good for ’em!

  6. Becky@FamilyandFinances says:

    My husband and I don’t have kids yet, but plan to. I feel overwhelmed enough working 35 hours/week and trying to keep up with housework/yardwork, etc. without any kids!

    I’m amazed at the parents who successfully raise kids and work fulltime. Personally, I’m glad I’ll be staying home when the kids arrive. I think I’d be very tempted to let the tv “babysit” them otherwise.

  7. palm says:

    I think you mean the p value is less than 0.05 above, not that it approaches 0.5 (which would not actually be statistically significant).

    We don’t watch television because we don’t have a television, or perhaps more accurately, we don’t have a television because we don’t want to watch it. So our son has never really been exposed to it, outside of occasional glimpses while out in the world. Among the families we know the reliance on television (or more commonly, videos) is much greater in families where one parent stays home. I don’t know why; perhaps it’s the perception that there’s more time available with the kids, so it’s okay to waste some?

  8. Gus says:

    You say “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.”

    Doesnt it matter what kind of content the media has? Doesnt it matter in what way/context the media is used? What is the differens if a group of kids play in the garden or if they sit around a video game? Id say they wont be worse off socially just because the play activity is in a digital form.

  9. silver says:

    I know your probably not reading comments on this article anymore…

    But a p-value “approaching .5” is not significant. At all. A p-value should be less than or equal to 0.05 to be significant. And strongly significant would be less than 0.01.

    And also, correlation does not mean causation. Correlation between heavy media exposure and mental health problems could mean that media exposure causes mental health problems. But more likely is that adolescents that are depressed withdraw from their friends and families and watch TV or play video games instead as a way to escape. In other words, heavy media exposure should make you look closer to see why your child is choosing to spend so much time with that instead of with other people.

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