Consumerism 1, Parents 0

January 21, 2007

Just today my seven year old asked why we couldn’t buy a brand new Ford Explorer. This isn’t the first time. He has been mentioning it for about three months now. We explained to him that to buy a new vehicle would mean we would have to pay for it. My vehicle is eight years old, runs fine, looks fine and is paid in full. If we needed to pay for a new vehicle, we would have to change our life back to how we used to live. To replace my car, I would have to go back to work full time and I wouldn’t be home with him after school and we wouldn’t be able to move forward with our plans to homeschool after the end of this academic school year.

But I have to question the values of our society when my seven year old can tell me the exact specifications of a new Ford Explorer, including seven-passenger seating with a folding third row seat. The child sounded like an announcer on a commercial. Where did he learn that? When did he learn that? Yes, yes, I know it was obviously from a commercial. This question left my husband and me two issues we clearly need to address. First, we obviously have been slacking in the television watching department, but we can’t shield him from television and commercials short of demanding no television. Others have given up television, but I admit, we all like Spongebob too much to give it up. Instead, the only option I see is the second issue, educate our son on the value of money, the power of using money as a tool and taking command of your life rather than buying something new you saw on television.

Fortunately, I think fast on my feet and pointed out to him that a purchase like that is not something to be done lightly. It needs to be considered with many other things in the budget. First, we need to analyze how much money we bring home. Second, we review how much currently goes out in bills, savings and investments, as well as fun time. Third, we look at what we already possess, does it work fine? Do we need a replacement? Fourth, we have to analyze how to make changes to accommodate such a purchase, including what we would give up (more time at home, the chance to direct our son’s education and better yet, let him direct it in a way that suits him best) and what we would gain (a pretty new vehicle that can seat more people). Finally, we would look at what the purchase meant in terms of the earth and the environment. What would buying a new Ford Explorer cost in terms of resources and future gas and emissions.

He is a smart boy, I am sure he suddenly saw the value of my older vehicle. When I asked him if he thought that giving up those things was acceptable in exchange for a new vehicle that we could fit more people into, he quickly answered no. So it looks like, barring any sudden downturn in my vehicle, we will continue driving my old one and we will continue with our plans of taking control over our lives.

The question that still leaves me unsettled is…. When did seven year old start caring about having old cars versus newer ones?

Consumerism 1, mom 0


3 Responses to “Consumerism 1, Parents 0”

  1. Yes, I agree that educating children about money is really important. The other thing you didn’t mention, however, is educating them about advertising — what it is, who does it and why they do it.
    I started doing this quite ruthlessly when my children were as young as four. I told them that advertisers were clever, sneaky people whose job it was to try and make people spend money they didn’t really need to spend. I can still remember my daughter turning to me during a commercial for a Barbie campervan, when she was about six, and saying ‘Those people just want to get my pocket money, don’t they Mummy? But I’m not going to let them have it. I’m going to make my OWN Barbie campervan.” She did, too, out of a carboard carton and all sorts of bits and pieces that she found. It was amazing. Later, she made another, bigger and better one with even more innovative features, and then a third. She out-Matteled Mattel!! Each model was more creative and marvellous than the last and she played with them for hours on end.
    When the children were older, I used to discuss with them how seeing things advertised and seeing things in the mall etc. could stir up all sorts of yearnings and how I often had those feelings too. I think it’s important to let children see that we all have the same impulses and that sales resistance is a learned skill — but an important and necessary one in our wasteful, overconsuming culture. It is as essential to the 21st Century mind as anti-virus software and a firewall are to a computer.
    (Incidentally, my children are long since grown up, enjoy living simply and are busy inculcating sales resistance into their own children now!)

  2. Sheri Says:

    That is very important. I did forget that. Yes, learning the tactics of marketing is crucial to teaching children to be wise and thoughtful consumers. Thank you!

  3. chee Says:

    i have 2 families, oldest daughter 37, youngest 9. though their attitude toward buying is the same, i think the way i demonstrate to them on the way i live is important. it is difficult to fight the mass media that constantly bombard them on consumerism, i feel by doing what i do, will eventually impact them. this is beginning to show on my oldest, as she struggles to manage her high end italian art shop. she knows that there are few buyers out there and the ones that she wants to buy, she must sell them on the idea of consumerism.

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