Living in this consumerist society, where we're bombarded by ads from every direction vying for our money, the task of raising your children to be smart consumers is a basic element of modern parenting. This can be a daunting challenge, however, since big companies actively seek to satisfy the interests of young consumers in order to manipulate their desires and get access to their parents' wallets.
It would seem that big business is working to thwart the efforts of parents who want to raise wise consumers, in effect trying to turn children into dumb consumers. Consider, for instance, the nag factor. Children who take in a lot of screen time on TVs, computers and handheld devices are exposed to marketing campaigns that deliberately encourage them to pester their parents for certain products while they stroll down store aisles full of toys and junk food. These products are colorfully packaged and often feature familiar cartoon characters, and of course, they’re positioned low on the shelves, at kids’-eye-level, or within reach of the acquisitive hands of a youngster sitting in a grocery cart seat.
Our consumer habits can raise real health and safety concerns, especially when it comes to kids. Junk food containing artificial ingredients, fat, sweeteners and salt, all with little to no nutritional value, leads to obesity, cardiovascular problems and various preventable diseases. Alcohol, cigarettes and now e-cigarettes are another serious health risk, with children shown to be particularly susceptible to these sorts of ads.
Parents also need to be cognizant of the subtle psychological effects that media can have on kids today. Video game and smartphone addiction can cause behavioral problems, especially when these things are taken away or abruptly restricted, and the violent and sexual content of certain shows and games is a problem unto itself. These factors interact with advertising to manipulate the consumer habits of children.
When your kids are online, make sure they know to never click on ads, and the reasons why, such as tracking, consumer profiling, spam and such. In fact, you should install ad blockers on all their browsers. Children should never fill out forms without permission, even to take a fun-looking personality quiz.
Raising savvy consumers means teaching your kids how to uncover and resist various advertising techniques. When you’re watching TV together, or driving by billboards, talk about the ads you're seeing and hearing. Explain the tricks, and ask question like, “Do you think those people really feel that way, or are they acting?”
Parents should teach their kids financial responsibility. The concept of working for wages can be modeled by chores and allowance, for instance. A child’s weekly allowance can represent their shopping budget. Talk about what they want to buy, and if they want something they can’t afford, teach them about saving, say, 10% per week until they can afford it.
Teach your kids to resist peer pressure, which is a factor that marketers use to manipulate buying habits. This happens especially in the fashion industry, where people are practically trained to judge others based on what they’re wearing. If the purchases of adults are so easily controlled in this way, you can be assured that kids are even more influenced by it. Take this opportunity to instill a sense of independent thinking and unique beauty into your kids, where they’ll grow to take joy in their distinctiveness rather than fear it.
Then there are the basic product safety factors to keep in mind. If a child’s toy breaks, for instance, you can teach them about the consumer and legal ramifications of product defects, injuries and recalls. If the toy is under warranty, you could even have your child write a letter to the manufacturer to complain about the breakage, and perhaps they’ll receive a replacement in return.
Finally, be a good consumer role model. Take the kids shopping with you, and teach them lessons while you shop. Point out how you compare prices and value, and how you discern quality from hype. Let your kids know that you’re shopping within a certain budget, and in the words of Mick Jagger, you can’t always get what you want.