Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child
and the New Consumer Culture
By Juliet B. Schor
Reviewed by Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary is a personal finance columnist for
The Washington Post. She discusses personal finance on National
Public Radio's Day to Day program on Tuesdays and online
Consumerism expert Juliet B. Schor has written
what should be a must-read for every new parent, seasoned
parent, aunt, uncle, and grandparent.
Born to Buy: The
Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture
me, and it will you, too.
"American children are deeply enmeshed in
the culture of getting and spending, and they are getting
more so," writes Schor, a professor at Boston College. "The
more they buy into commercial and materialist messages,
the worse they feel about themselves, the more depressed
they are, and the more they are beset by anxiety, headaches,
stomachaches, and boredom."
Here is what Schor found, based on various
studies and her own survey of 300 children (ages 10 to 13)
in the Boston area:
are becoming shoppers at an earlier age. It is estimated
that children aged 6 to 12 visit stores two to three times
children go shopping every week than read, go to church,
participate in youth groups, play outdoors, or spend time
in household conversation.
top aspiration now is to be rich. Forty-four percent of
kids in the fourth through eighth grades now report that
they daydream "a lot" about being rich.
two-thirds of parents report, "My child defines his or
her selfworth in terms of the things they own and wear
more than I did when I was that age."
study found that nearly two-thirds of mothers thought
their children were brand-aware by age 3, and one-third
said it had happened by age 2.
my usually sweet and gentle 6-year-old boy got in my face
about something he saw on television and wanted me to get
for him. After watching a Saturday morning cartoon program,
my son stormed into the kitchen and demanded that I take him
to a certain fast-food restaurant so he could get a toy that
was in a kid's meal. He stood there with his hands on his
hips, asking: "When are you going to take me? How many times
have you taken me?" Then he had the audacity to answer the
question for me: "Zero times, Mommy, zero times," he said,
forming two fingers into the shape of a zero.
Clearly, my son had lost his mind. Usually
I just ignore it when my kids nag me for stuff. But there
was something in my son's manner that morning that made
me take notice. He was productpossessed, and after I stopped
fuming, I got scared. I turned my son around and ordered
him to go shut off the television. In fact, I went a step
further. After that incident, I have severely limited his
and his sisters' television watching.
Born to Buy
, Schor outlines the
numerous tactics that advertisers are using on our kids,
many of which turn them into disrespectful tykes and teens.
For example, there is an "anti-adult bias" in the commercials.
"It's important to recognize the nature of the corporate
message: Kids and products are aligned together in a really
great, fun place, while parents, teachers, and other adults
inhabit an oppressive, drab, and joyless world," Schor says.
"The lesson to kids is that it's the product, not your parents,
that is really on your side."
There is the practice of "trans-toying,"
or turning everyday items into playthings. "Child development
experts worry that this trend leaves little space for imagination,
as every item in the environment becomes a toy," Schor writes.
How many times have you heard your kid say, "I'm bored"?
What he or she really means is: You need to buy me something
that will entertain me because I can't possibly be put upon
to be creative.
Schor concludes that kids who are overly
involved in the values of consumerism become problem children.
"The prevalence of harmful and addictive products, the imperative
to keep up, and the growth of materialistic attitudes are
harming kids," she says.
People-parents-are under siege. And what's
at stake isn't just a depletion of our assets to buy what
our kids are brainwashed to believe they need. What's at
stake is the well-being of our children.
Advertisers and marketers are turning our
children into materialistic monsters. And sadly, we are
aiding and abetting the enemy. We let the enemy into our
house when we allow our children to watch endless programming
surrounded by a steady stream of messages that communicate
they aren't worthy- a somebody-without certain products.
We deliver our children to the enemy every time we choose
to entertain them by shopping.
Born to Buy
you to fight back, because our children- my children-weren't
born to shop.
From "Material Girl and Boy" by Michelle
The Washington Post
, November 14, 2004,
©2004 The Washington Post Writers Group.
Excerpted with permission.
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