The Rise of Stuff: How Do We Teach Our Kids To Be Responsible Consumers?

09 October 2012

We've got a multitude of organisational and storage solutions (including personalised name labels!), professional organisers and de-cluttering courses, and even street-by-street sidewalk trash days – all to help us manage our overflow of stuff!

And we continue to buy new stuff – urged on by the messages we get through TV, movies, magazines, billboards, the internet and the rest.

There's no doubt we are a commercial, consuming culture, and our kids are being marketed to more than ever before. They are being taught (some would say brain-washed) to want more and more stuff.

The average American child watches between 25,000 and 40,000 television ads per year. The amount of money spent on marketing to children in the US has increased from $100 million in 1983 to $15 billion some 20 years later. Source <http://www.globalissues.org/article/237/children-as-consumers>

But, we don't need statistics to know what's going on with our kids

The classic stories we remember from our childhood are no longer just books - they're made into movies with accompanying TV programs, video games, branded products (clothes, toys, lunch boxes, snack foods), mobile devices and online social networking sites.

At younger and younger ages our kids are wanting the products they see on the screen and the latest gadget their friends are flashing in the school yard.

What's the problem?

I guess some people don't see that there's much of a problem at all.

Certainly, it's not surprising that many of us would feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in being able to provide for our children to a level at which, perhaps, our parents were not able to provide for us.

But still, do we remember our childhood's as so lacking just because we didn't have the latest game console or fashion doll mansion or top brand sneakers?

Here's what I worry about...

Our kids missing out on real imaginative play and development, and discovering what they really like to do, because they're being told what they should want to do by companies.

Our kids having a distorted view of money and the value of things - and getting into trouble with debt and so on as they enter adulthood.

Our kids the wrong idea that material wealth is a quick fix for happiness.

How do we share our values with our kids?

I was watching an Oprah episode recently, and the guest was the professional organiser (an Aussie actually!) Peter Walsh. He was helping a couple sort through their four-wheel-drive, which had become a dumping ground for all their stuff. So much so that they couldn't fit their children in the car anymore!

Seeing everything pulled from the car laid out on the stage was incredible and Peter pointed how just how much wasted money and time all this poorly managed stuff represented. Then he asked, "what message are you giving your children by treating your possessions so badly?"

That struck home with me. How do I model my values around money and material things for my kids? How do we, as a family, show respect for our possessions - by labelling them, by storing them properly, by using them appreciatively?