Dear Mrs. Riches:
I love my children dearly but have grown to dislike them as consumers. They (ages 6, 9, and 14) are all well-versed in pressure tactics, including launching all-out campaigns when they want an item badly enough. I am so tired of being harangued all the time. I already refuse to take any of them along in the grocery store and try to do the other shopping online so I can avoid places like the mall that seem to turn them into little money-grubbing beasts. But beyond avoidance, teaching them money management, and lecturing them about appreciation, I'm just not sure what to do. Help, please!
-- Hating the Harassment
Dear Hating the Harassment:
Your kids sound like an advertiser's dream, which should be cause for concern for any parent. The big companies have found a multitude of ways in which to market their wares to the American consumer, but none is more insidious than insinuating themselves into the minds of our children. I also hate to bring my kids to the grocery store, but mostly because requests for such things as "Blue's Clues yogurt" and "Dora spaghettios" make me wince. When did food become a cartoon character, for Pete's sake?
A parent can find it hard to figure out what to do, especially as advertisers have gotten ever more sophisticated about reaching their target audiences. Commercialism is everywhere, but that doesn't mean you have to roll out the welcome mat and invite it in. Here are some ways you might combat the "nag factor" that marketers are counting on:
- Rent movies and TV programs instead of watching live TV. Network television aimed at kids is loaded with advertisements for toys, cereals, and various plastic, hard-to-assemble items. Minimize your child's list of wants by simply practicing avoidance.
- Defer to the "birthday list." When my kids request specific items, I listen with interest and then say in a cheerful voice, "When we get home, you'll have to put that on your (birthday, Christmas, Veterans Day) list." Somehow, with my young kids, this seems to work much of the time.
- A genuine "no" is priceless. Half-hearted nos -- nos that mean "No, unless you nag enough to make me give in," and "No, until dad comes home and reverses the decision" -- are all wimpy versions of "yes." Your kids catch on quickly to whether your "no" is negotiable.
- For older kids, establishing an allowance (along with clear expectations about what the allowance will pay for) can help them learn responsibility, encourage delay of gratification, and help them become better consumers.
- Teach your child to comparison-shop. Arguing with your preteen about how Brand X jeans are actually the same as Brand Y jeans is not going to get you very far. Name-brand recognition and having the same items as their friends seems of paramount importance to someone 12 years old, no matter what we know differently. Show your child how to find the coveted item she or he wants at a fraction of the price, though, and you'll reel that child in with a powerful lesson.
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This article, written by Elizabeth Brokamp, originally ran in January 2007. It has been updated by Dayana Yochim. The Fool has a disclosure policy.