What does it mean to be a consumer in today’s culture? Being both frugal and conscious has become a sign of the times, and kids are exposed, more than ever, to ways to save money, shop wisely, and conserve food and materials.
As a parent, you have a primary role of showing your child what it means to be a consumer in a world of constant advertising and spending. How can you promote a lifestyle that isn't reliant on buying and spending? And, for older children, what types of skills are needed to think critically and independently as a consumer?
Educate your kids about advertising and how marketers target young people
- Help kids understand that the main goal of advertising is to make them buy things—often things they don't need, and didn't even know they wanted until they've seen the ad.
- Explain that advertising is big business, one of the largest businesses in the world.
- Using the Advertising Strategies handout (right sidebar), talk about the techniques marketers use to target kids.
- Using the Rules For Advertising To Kids (right sidebar), discuss what advertisers are not allowed to do when making ads for kids. Examine commercials and print ads to see if they follow the rules.
- Using the Talking to Kids About Advertising tip sheet (right sidebar), start to integrate media literacy questions into the conversations you have with your kids about advertising.
Challenge your children's definition of "cool"
Ask them the following questions:
- Do you ever feel bad about yourself for not owning something?
- Have you ever felt that people might like you more if you owned a certain item?
- Has an ad made you feel that you would like yourself more, or that others would like you more, if you owned the product the ad is selling?
- Do you ever worry about your looks? Have you ever felt that people would like you more if your face, body, skin or hair looked different?
- Has an ad ever made you feel that you would like yourself more, or others would like you more, if you changed your appearance with the product the ad was selling?
(Source: The Price of Happiness teaching lesson)
Encourage savvy consumer habits
- Encourage your kids to challenge advertisers' claims about their products. Do your own blind taste tests at home or buy a product and compare its performance with the claims made in the commercial.
Encourage your family to watch non-commercial television
- Young children should watch mostly non-commercial television.
- When watching commercial stations, tape programs so that you can fast forward through the commercials.
Explain the effects of mass consumerism on the planet and society
- Talk about the effects of consumption on the planet, and how the world's resources are distributed very unevenly among the world's people.
- Make gifts whenever possible.
- Donate money, goods or time to environmental causes.
- Celebrate Buy Nothing Day in your home. Use it as a catalyst to talk about why we often buy things we don't need, and how we can become smarter consumers and better savers.
Encourage non-commercial values in your kids
- Try to spend more time with your kids, not more money on them. What kids really want and need is time with their parents, not more consumer goods.
- Explain that there are children, even in your own community, who don't have many toys. Donate your old toys to a local women's shelter, or send them to a aid agency so they can shipped to refugee camps in developing countries.
Put shopping into perspective
- Explain that shopping should not be viewed as a hobby or pastime. It's something we do when we need to buy something and then we come home.
- Get your kids involved in other activities, so they have less time to hang around the mall.
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