It’s very hard to raise green, consumer savvy kids in this increasingly commercial culture. Astoundingly, research shows that kids under 14 years of age spend about $40 billion annually, while teens spend about $159 billion a year on goods. But, it’s not just kids who are avid consumers. Parents pose a much bigger problem. According to a new study by Unicef, British parents have trapped themselves, and their children in a cycle of “compulsive consumerism.” The study shows that parents are more likely to shower their kids with toys and designer label gifts vs. spending quality time with them. We can’t come down too hard on our friends across the pond though, because parents in the U.S. have the same consumer issues.

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What’s the big deal with commercialism?

As a parent, the worst thing about excessive consumer behavior is that you’re setting your kid up for a life where stuff matters most of all. Meaningful moments, time with family and living happily play distant second roles to a more, more, more mentality. I’ve talked to teens who say they just want to grow up and get jobs that pay a lot. When asked what they enjoy, these teens say stuff like, “It doesn’t matter, so long as a job pays a lot.” How sad is this? Companies spend about $17 billion annually marketing to children, but this rush of commercialism has numerous negative consequences for both children and adults. The Campaign for A Commercial Free Childhood has collected an impressive amount of research related to kids and marketing. This site is amazing, but some key points include:

  • Marketing to children is linked to the childhood obesity epidemic.
  • Marketing discourages a child’s ability to play creatively.
  • Children who are more materialistic are less happy, more depressed, more anxious and have lower self-esteem.
  • 44% of 4th through 8th graders report daydreaming “a lot” about being rich when they should be dreaming other dreams.
  • Materialism contributes to family stress.

Beyond the obvious, commercialism results in non-green kids. A recent study noted that the more materialistic a child, the less likely they were to participate in eco-activities, like turning lights off and taking shorter showers. That same eco-study noted that materialistic children tend to be less happy, report anxiety, and feel less secure than less materialistic children.

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What parents can do to cut down on commercialism

As parents, we can’t expect to grow green and consumer savvy kids until we learn to deal with our own consumer issues. Do as I say, not as I do, simply doesn’t work for kids. Kids mimic your behaviors. If cable television or that third car matters more than time spent with your child, he’ll in turn believe that life should be this way. I know two-parent families who will work three or four jobs, leaving little time for the kids. Most of the time, these parents say, “We can’t afford NOT to work extra jobs.” But, these same families live in a hyper big house, pay $90 a month for cable, have three cars and more junk then they can store like gardening, electronic and sports equipment that no one has time to enjoy.

I know another family where the mom works insanely long hours. The kids are alone most evenings. On Christmas eve, this mom will stay up all day and night, shopping for, then wrapping literally dozens of gifts to pile under the tree, but then she is so tired she passes out and doesn’t even spend Christmas day with her kids – they open their gifts alone. Not surprisingly, her daughter told me, “People who don’t buy me what I want for Christmas suck – it’s not the thought that counts.” This is not only insane, but it’s living in excess, not living within your means, and it’s detrimental to our children.

The New American Dream has some easy advice about how to live with less stuff. My favorite points include:

  1. Live consciously: be more aware of what really matters in life.
  2. Buy wisely: make each purchase, or decision not to purchase stand out.
  3. Make a difference: use your actions and words to deal with commercialism.

If you can’t grasp how much excess stuff is controlling your life, I recommend checking out two books. One, Your Money or Your Life, a book about transforming your relationship with money, stuff and how you spend your time. This book is amazing and pushes for a more authentic, more people based, less materialistic life and gives you the tools you need to create change. The Circle of Simplicity, focuses a lot on the need for stuff. How to get rid of it, how to buy less, finding and living your passion and forming community and family groups that focus on togetherness.

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How parents can encourage kids to cut down on commercialism

Most child health organizations recommend that parents turn off the TV and quit buying anything that’s branded. But really, should you shun commercials and brands? Your kids will run into them anyhow, so this isn’t realistic. Avoidance of commercialism is nothing more than a  band-aid. Avoidance doesn’t help you raise smart green consumer-savvy kids. Conversation is key. It’s okay to want, but make sure your kids know that want and need are very different issues. Discuss purchases with kids in relationship to the time it took to earn the money to buy said goods. Most of all set a good example. Spend time, not money on your kids. Make giving, not getting a priority. Have a homemade, less materialistic Christmas or other holiday and shun major commercial events like Black Friday. Read some more tips especially made for kids about avoiding commercialism.

+ Source

+ FREE download: Buy, Use, Toss? A guide about the steps of the materials economy; Extraction, Production, Distribution, Consumption and Disposal.

+ Child well-being in the UK, Spain and Sweden: The role of inequality and materialism

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