We like to tell ourselves that our children won’t grow up to be the consumers that drive themselves into debt, make purchase decisions off of impulse, and accumulate more than they need. But instead of telling ourselves this, there are several actions we can take to ensure we don’t raise consumers, but creators.
To start your children on a path geared towards creativity, not consumerism, they should understand the difference between the two. Many children are actually highly responsive to consumer culture, but they might not know it. When your kid sees an advertisement for a new toy and comes running up to you and yelling that they have to have it, talk to them about the advertisement, itself. Ask questions about why that advertisement spoke to them, what about that commercial actually made them want the toy. If they realize that they only wanted the toy because they saw other kids playing it with, they might understand that they already have some toys to play with when hanging out with their friends.
You should also be talking to your children about different forms of advertising (like radio, print, billboards), different tactics (like appealing to families, playing off of holiday cheer), and how they can be mindful of when advertising is being too manipulative (a commercial plays over and over, a fast food chain has pictures of their kid’s meals action figures all around the restaurant). By giving them concepts to dissect and explore, they will grow up being conscious consumers, rather than simply accepting an advertisement and its affect on them.
Creating What We Want
Once your children understand consumerism, it is the perfect time to teach them about countering the impulse decisions and channeling that into creative energy. Most children see commercials and magazine advertisements for the fun toys or delicious treats they show off. But instead of letting your kids think that if they want something they just have to go the store, you can teach them to create the things they want.
For example, food advertisements affect all of us, not just children. An ad for some chocolate chip cookies might look really delicious when we lay eyes on it, but you don’t want your kid running to the store every time he sees an ad for cookies. Instead, help your kid make their own batch of chocolate chip cookies the next time they see an ad that strikes up a craving. You’ll turn the impulse shopping habits consumer culture wants your kids to have into creative thinking and independence. These kinds of skills can lead to entrepreneurship, self-reliance, and even smart money management in the future.
Saving Up And Delayed Gratification
Consumerism relies heavily on impulses and excitement, especially in children. It can be nearly impossible to get our kids to stop talking about that new toy they want or the new style of shoes they have to buy. The commercials that give off these messages preach instant gratification: buy these sneakers now and you’ll be popular today! But smart consumers, as well as creative innovators, are not working for instant gratification. They are biding their time, saving up, working hard, and appreciating the delayed gratification even more. A child who waits for something will understand its value forever.
Let’s say your kid wants a new bicycle. Some of their friends got the new model in fire engine red and they’re just dying to have one, too. But just because your kid is demonstrating some very consumer-esque qualities doesn’t mean you can’t use them as an opportunity to foster creativity and innovation. Talk to your kid about how they can build their own bike. Take them to a junkyard to collect spare parts and the library so they can learn how to put it together. You can bring up their long-term savings whenever they buy into instant gratification: they can either have that new action figure now, or they can save the money and put it towards their new bicycle.
Your child is now thinking like an entrepreneur by considering which situations he can benefit from and which he can’t. They are also learning about innovation by way of having to think up creative ways to achieve their goals. It won’t be easy for them and they certainly won’t be rewarded immediately, but the delayed gratification will make them appreciate the creativity and innovation they used to get there all the more.
The children we raise today will be the adults we depend on tomorrow. Not only will we be counting on their resolve and resourcefulness, but on how well they interact with the business world. By teaching them about consumerism and encouraging them to create and innovate rather than to shop and buy now, we can create a generation geared towards innovation and economic success.