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"Children 'damaged' by materialism" (BBC). Probably, but what can be done about it?

102 replies

Bluebutterfly · 26/02/2008 08:19

The problem is that in our consumerist culture it is almost impossible to get away from this problem, is it not? What do MNers think?

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Bluebutterfly · 26/02/2008 08:37


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needmorecoffee · 26/02/2008 08:48

no it isn't. You don't have to be sucked in to buying 'things'. Its not compulsory.
We only buy what we 'need' and even then only after saving up for it. People sneer at my tiddly 21 inch ancient TV but it shows the same old tat that their overpriced flat screens do.
I expect people sneer at my unfashionable clothes too but why should I care?
That said, school encourages all this. My eldest was fine until at 13 she chose to go to school (she was home edded). Then she started coming home asking for 'stuff' and got quite emotional over the whole thing. So I told her to to save up for 'stuff' as we gacve her the child benefit for clothes and bus fares etc. She wanted it now and suggested I get a job so she could have more clothes or what have you.
One year she spent at school and came to value people by what they looked like and what they wore. It was heartbreaking.
I'm still flummoxed by the change.

motherhurdicure · 26/02/2008 08:52

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FrannyandZooey · 26/02/2008 08:53

I have found not having a tv helps
children's tv seems to be roughly 90% about selling stuff - I don't mean just the adverts

Bluebutterfly · 26/02/2008 08:58

I agree with you that you can choose to opt out of the prevailing society and go "your own way", but that is rarely a simple option and it is hard to tell yourself not to care if people sneer.

My mother was fairly non-materialistic and we did not buy things to "keep up", but I would be lying if I said that I did not resent my mother dressing me so differently from the other children and I am in two minds about the benefits of a total rejection of popular culture to the point of being an outcast, especially as a child. I try to teach my ds to value other people, to look at the world and it's inhabitants with an open mind, to value who he is and what he accomplishes above what he owns and can accumulate. But I do not want him to stand out for wearing freakish clothes the way I often did as a child, so I am probably part of the problem. I do not buy my ds every toy that he wants - we don't have tv and so he does not see advertisements on a regular basis, but I think that it is very difficult to make a stand in a world that does not support you - in some countries advertising targetted at children is simply banned. I have to say that I think that it would help parents alot in putting across other values if the message was not so contrary to the dominant culture presented in media etc.

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marina · 26/02/2008 09:01

I think there's a lot you can do.
Needmorecoffee's point that children take their first values from their family surroundings, so it helps if your parents/siblings are not particularly interested in electronic gadgetry - other than for its content IYSWIM. We all like and enjoy telly, music and the internet - but all of these can be delivered modestly.
Sure he says he'd like a mobile phone but he doesn't really mean it.
It's another parenting responsibility to add to the list, but you can also make an effort to make other values prominent in their lives. We go to church most Sundays and through this the dcs hear about a street mission in Peru we support, the Bishop's Lent Call (which includes UK good causes), we pray weekly for the people of Darfur, Kenya, Zimbabwe etc - none of this concern for others specific to religious belief or church attendance, but that's where we focus specially on our own good fortune and how we can help others.
We answer their questions about the economy, politics, society etc.
I know older kids and teens who love their Gameboys/mobiles and want to save the planet/volunteer at night shelters in equal measure. I agree with the report's concerns but I also think a lot of children can and do question material, consumerist culture. I don't think the picture is uniformly bleak.

motherhurdicure · 26/02/2008 09:01

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MascaraOHara · 26/02/2008 09:02

I think I'm terrible for this. dd whines for stuff and I buy it because mostly I'm too tired for the arguement which means the cyle is started, she whines more, I buy more, she whines more, I buy more.. just to shut her up (for want of a better phrase). I wish I didn't give in to her and I know I'm not doing her any favours. I bury my head in the sand by telling myself "I'm just picking my battles". She is 'spoilt' and it's getting worse. I hate it. I know people like me only perpetuate the overall problem

See now, I'm regretting posting this already but I am going to post it

FrannyandZooey · 26/02/2008 09:04

"I am in two minds about the benefits of a total rejection of popular culture to the point of being an outcast"

I haven't seen anyone suggesting this, not on this thread anyway

have you read a book called (I think) Born to Buy? It is an interesting read on the subject of children and materialism

motherhurdicure · 26/02/2008 09:06

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K999 · 26/02/2008 09:06

I dont see the problem with kids having toys, gadgets etc. My dd1 likes to go shopping. If she sees something that she likes then she has to either save up, or we split the cost. It teaches her about the value of money.

Having 'things' does not necessarily mean that you are materialistic. My dd1 watches adverts but does not automatically think that she can get whatever is being advertised. A lot of the time she will ask me if I think it is worth the money. She also knows from experience that a lot of stuff advertised does not actually do what it is supposed to do!

UnquietDad · 26/02/2008 09:07

Why do people sneer at the non-materialist? Do they genuinely think they are better for "having stuff"? DW's younger brother is like this - he thinks he has "arrived" for having a BMW on the drive. I just think he's a saddo.

spokette · 26/02/2008 09:08

Unless you shut yourself away with no contact with the outside world, you will not get away from the rampant consumerist culture. However,there are degrees of consumerism and everybody is a consumer because we all need to buy goods to survive (food, heat, clothing etc).

The key, imo, is the value that one attaches to goods, especially non-essential goods like excess clothing, electronic goods etc plus how much self-assuredness, self-esteem and aplomb that you have. If you need to prop up your self-worth through what you own, then imo, you have a deep-seated problem with self-esteem.

If we are in a shop and my DTS start asking me to buy something that they like, I say no. They keep pestering me but I remain steadfast. Consequently, at age 4yo, they are learning the concept that I do not engage in impulse buying.

IMO, if a child learns that seeing does not automatically equate to having, then that is huge step towards minimising rampant consumer urges.

The other important lesson that my DTS are learning is that we love them for themselves and not for what they have. We constantly praise them for the little achievements. DT2 can now stand on one leg and is really proud of this and we always cheer him on when he manages to stand on one leg, even it is just for a 1 second. Those are the things that matter,imo

SueBaroo · 26/02/2008 09:12

I have to say, I think our faith probably helps us to stand firmer against the prevailing culture thing. Already quite used to standing outside the mainstream, iyswim.

Bluebutterfly · 26/02/2008 09:13

Franny - I know that noone on this thread suggested the outcast thing - I was reflecting more on my own upbringing and the difficulties I see in trying to reject the prevailing culture - I suppose I just wish the prevailing culture was a little less materialistic and that I could be as firm as needmorecoffee and state that I truly don't care what people think.

I guess that I have a superficial side that just does care a bit, although I wish I didn't.

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Miaou · 26/02/2008 09:19

As a family we are very unmaterialistic and have passed on (I hope) our values to our children (well, they are being brought up that way anyway ). The sneering thing is a worry; my eldest is 10.5 now so still in primary, but I am worried about how she will be treated in high school in a couple of years' time. That said, we don't dress them in "freaky" clothes!! - but neither do they have lots of stuff in the latest fashions.

We are also fortunate to live in a fairly remote area which isn't as influenced on a daily basis by materialism - simply because there is precious little here to buy (sounds unlikely but I swear it's true; even taking into account the internet). It's not a particularly affluent area either, so there is not so much pressure to keep up with the peers round here.

spokette · 26/02/2008 09:21

Marina & Subaroo, interesting points you make because one of the reasons we send the DTS to Sunday School is because it is an environment where our values are reinforced. So the boys learn about helping others, sharing, unconditional love etc.

I'm not saying that those values would not be reinforced elsewhere. However, I loved Sunday School as a child and I want the boys to have a similar positive experience, which they are because they are always asking about when they can go.

K999 · 26/02/2008 09:23

Agree Spokette. We dont send the dcs to Sunday school but we do reinforce those values at home.

Miaou · 26/02/2008 09:23

This thing though about sneering at the way people look/dress/don't have new things - there is a thread in style this morning epitomising this attitude completely! - I just lol and carry on - but I agree Bluebutterfly - it can make you feel a little that people think of you like that.

Fillyjonk · 26/02/2008 09:24

"children's tv seems to be roughly 90% about selling stuff - I don't mean just the adverts "

this is very very true

I have recently relented re tv and the kids do now have a bit of stuff released post 1970, specifically in the night garden, charlie and lola, and pingu

What shocked me was that after seeing ONE episode of ITNG, my TWO year old was able to go into a toyshop and identify all the characters (which of course were on sale)

I find it deeply disturbing really that kids tv is being made with marketing in mind.

SueBaroo · 26/02/2008 09:26

I also have elephant hide when it comes to the sneers of others. I figure it will either rub off on my dc, or I will be the embarrassing mother from hell.

50/50 is better than nothing, I reckon

Astrophe · 26/02/2008 09:32

I don't think I realised until I had kids how strong my impulse to 'treat' them is (Not that there is anything wrong with the occasional treat). I am constantly shocked when I evaluate my reaction to the latest ELC catalogue - I find myself mentally listing all the things the kids "need".

For me, not looking at advertising is a real help in my attempts to avoid consumerism. We don't have a telly either, and I try not to go into town very much as I inevitably see things that we "need" when I'm there.

I can't remember where I read it (so no reference sorry), but I remember when I was studying Education, learning that it's not until children are around age 9 that they can really distinguish between advertising and entertainment, and can understand the motives of advertising.

Of course being able to critically evaluate advertising is a skill, and parents need to teach it over time, but I think this is a great reason to keep kids away from advertising when they are small. Apparently advertising to children is banned in some countries (Sweden?).

For what it's worth, I think the idea that we (or our children) can buy and spend a lot, and highly value material things, but not be materialistic is a nonsense. Aren't we the sum of our actions and thoughts?

I know most of you are not Christians, but I think Jesus' words in the Bible still hold true: "Where you treasure is, there you heart will be also".

I might look out that book F&Z - I just finished "Not Buying It" by Judith Levine, which was good read (bit boring towards the end though, I thought).

I also highly recommend "Toxic Childhood" Sue Palmer (?) It's a great read and addresses this and other issues really helpfully I think.


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GooseyLoosey · 26/02/2008 09:32

I have to say I wonder if part of this is not just "smug anti-materialism" from an older generation whose acquisitions were constrained by wealth and availability and who belive that what was good for them should be good for every one else. I have often heard my mother say of my dcs "they have far too much". They certainly have more than she or I did, but so what.

I am not sure that there is any inherent virtue in not having things or indeed in not wanting them. Surely the key thing is that materialism does not become the dominant force in people's lives but I think that we have to recognise that it is a force and not necessarily the terrible one that we are all tempted to portray it as.

trixymalixy · 26/02/2008 09:35

It's difficult as you can only do so much as parents. Other children at school etc will have a huge influence as well.

My parents were very non-materialistic, but I took a lot of stick at school for not having the right trainers etc.

As much as I hate to say it, the kids at school seem to have had more influence on me than my parents and I'm more materialistic than I would like to be.

ahundredtimes · 26/02/2008 09:40

Oh good another survey about how miserable our children are. I love these surveys, there's one a week at the minute.

Of course you can do whatever you want about it. You can say 'No' for instance, and you can say 'No' again if you like.

The whole thing is absurd. Don't buy the Bob the Builder plastic cup, don't buy the Pingu pants. There. Easy.

Anyway most children's advertising seems to be for CAR INSURANCE as far as I can make out. So we'll see the effect in fifteen years time, when they all rush out to insure their lives and cars with Churchill.

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