"stuff", satisfaction, suburbia part 2

This is part 2 of a three-part series. You can read part 1 here and part 3 here.

Whether we like it or not, our children are consumers. Parents may be slow to recognize this truth, but marketers certainly are not. The hotbed of spending potential created by suburban affluence means marketers of children’s products are placing your child in their crosshairs. Without the maturity to filter marketing messages, children take their claims as fact.

Marketers want to accomplish two things with your children:
• To awaken and amplify their desire to consume
• To blur the line between wants and needs

A child who succumbs to these two advances will begin applying pressure to mom and dad to purchase, and dismaying behavior soon follows. What parent of a small child doesn’t dread the trip to Walmart with little Ryan perched in the cart yelling “I want that!” at every end-cap? And if his pleas find traction in our sense of guilt, our fear of fit-throwing, or our desire to please him, voila, another must-have item makes its way from the shelf to the cart to the toy bin to the trash.

As Ryan grows the pleas may become more sophisticated and the scenarios less public, but the problem remains the same: enhanced desire and insatiability of wants. How can we help our children to filter marketing messages so they can pursue Godly contentment?

limit desire-enhancing sources
The Bible draws a clear connection between seeing, desiring, and taking. Help your children to minimize begging for new purchases by keeping temptation out of their line of sight. Point out to them the connection between seeing and wanting. Teach them to reject the idea that “it won’t hurt to look”. If a child consistently hounds you for a particular item, give some thought to where that desire is being fed.
  • Avoid TV programming that is laced with ads aimed at children. Be aware of product placement in the shows your children watch. Play “catch the ad” – make a game out of identifying marketing messages hidden in TV shows and movies. Ask your kids why their Happy Meal toy might be a character from a new movie.
  • Watch out for direct mail. Browsing catalogs and ad sections of the newspaper can take children from content to consumer in short order. Rather than asking children to circle their favorite catalog items, ditch the catalogs in the recycle bin before they can be seen.
  • Make online shopping or browsing off-limits unless for a designated purchase with a parent involved.
  • Avoid wandering the mall or window-shopping. Not a great idea for anyone in the family.
  • When you do shop together (i.e. the dreaded Walmart outing), set a clear expectation before you enter the store that no treats or toys will be purchased, but a small reward will be given at check-out to a child who does not ask for anything.

distinguish clearly between needs and wants
To a young child, everything feels like a need. Marketers know and love this fact. As parents we must teach our children to discern between needs and wants. This will initially require saying “no” a lot. By consistently giving in to our children’s wants we reinforce their sense of need for something external to provide satisfaction. Denying their wants mercifully allows them the chance to realize that the world didn’t end just because they didn’t get their request.

Start early talking to your children about the difference between needs and wants. Help them make a list or a collage of things people need to live: food, water, shelter, clothing. Talk about how our wants play off of our needs: we want delicious food, filtered water, luxurious shelter, designer clothing. Help them appreciate the blessing of having their basic needs met by exposing them to people who are in need (more on this next week).

Once children reach an age where they have spending power of their own, enlist their earning potential in the purchasing of wants. Your approach might look something like this:
  • mom and dad will fund all your physical needs for food/water/shelter/clothing
  • you can fund your wants
  • we can both fund “gray area” items: if you want something nicer than you need (i.e. Nike sneakers instead of store-brand), mom and dad will pay the portion for the “need” and you pay the difference for the “want”.
Make your children aware that mom and dad make choices in their spending that reflect needs and wants. On shopping trips, let your children see you pick up items, consider them, and replace them on the shelf. Explain why you have chosen not to buy or to defer a purchase until later.

And finally, every now and then bless your child by getting them something they want. Just for the sheer joy of it. In doing so you model the goodness of God, who takes great delight in the giving of good things to His children.

Up next week:
Dealing with comparisons to others
Understanding a true “deal”
Stalling tactics and milestone purchases
Checking our motives for purchasing