Born to Buy: How Consumer Culture Undermines Children’s Well Being

This is the thirteenth 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 first portion of the eighth chapter, “How Consumer Culture Undermines Children’s Well Being,” starting on page 141 until the subheading “Patterns of Media Use” on page 153.

born to buyIf the rest of the book wasn’t troubling enough, this chapter basically took it over the line. After reading it, I wanted to march downstairs, toss out every toy with a licensed character on it, and pitch the television out in the dumpster.

Chapter eight of Born to Buy describes the results of an extensive survey on the connections between children, media, consumer culture, and physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. The results are pretty disheartening, to say the least – there’s a direct correlation between media exposure and obesity, media exposure and antisocial behavior, media exposure and violent behavior, and media exposure and mental health issues.

Needless to say, this chapter was very intense for me. There were many specific aspects described here that reminded me of my childhood in many different ways, and I attribute most of those remembered experiences to setting the groundwork for my own rampant consumerism and subsequent financial meltdown. Let’s dig in to some of the more interesting – and troubling – specifics.

A Look at Some Specific Results from the Survey
As Schor describes on page 144:

The Survey on Children, Media, and Consumer Culture has now been taken by 300 children between the ages of ten and thirteen, in and around Boston, Massachusetts. These children come from varied socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, and span the spectrum from avid spenders and TV watchers to kids who are mostly isolated from commercial culture. Three hundred may sound like a small number in comparison to national polls, which typically start at a thousand, but within the psychological literature that are most closely related to this study, 300 children is actually a large sample size. Most important, it’s far bigger than is needed to establish statistical reliability and confidence in the findings.

In other words, this data holds up to scientific rigor. I went through a few of the references and Schor’s survey here is spot-on – it’s good science.

So what kinds of questions and answers were given? Schor provides a long list of questions and responses on pages 149 to 151. One result, however, really surprised me: 88.0% of surveyed children either agree or strongly agree that when they go somewhere special, they usually like to buy something.

In other words, a special event revolves around the acquisition of material goods for more than seven out of eight children. Somehow, that makes me really sad inside.

Another aspect of the survey I found disturbing is that a large portion of the children consistently believed that the brand of a product was directly connected to the quality of it – perception above reality. These are children aged ten to thirteen years old, and the majority of them are already convinced that two identical tee shirts can be distinguished in terms of quality if one of them says abercrombie and fitch on it.

The pervasive consumer culture is real, and it is altering how children perceive the world. The next piece of the chapter looks at the effects of that alteration.

The next discussion, coming in two days, will cover the next portion of the eighth chapter, “How Consumer Culture Undermines Children’s Well Being,” starting on page 153 at the subheading “Patterns of Media Use” and continuing until the subheading “Statistical Result: Consumer Involvement Undermines Children’s Well-Being” on page 167.

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