Raising Wise Consumers

Raising Wise Consumers

Almost anyone with a profit motive is marketing to innocents. Help your kids understand it’s OK not to have it all. Here are five strategies for raising wise consumers.

1. Lead by example

While you may know that TV commer cials stimulate desire for consumer goods, you’ll have a hard time selling your kids on the virtues of turning off the tube if you structure your own days around the latest sitcom (情景喜剧) or reality show.

The same principle applies to money matters. It does no good to lecture your kids about spending, saving and sharing when doing out their pocket money if you spend every free weekend afternoon at the mall. If you suspect your own spending habits are out of whack, consider what financial advisor Nathan Dungan says in his book Wasteful Sons and Material Girls: How Not to Be Your Child’s ATM. “In teaching your child about money, few issues are as critical as your own regular consumer decisions,” he writes. “In the coming weeks, challenge yourself to say no to your own wants and to opt for less expensive options.”

2.Encourage critical thinking

With children under six or seven, start by telling them, “Don’t believe everything you see,” says Linda Millar, vice-president of Education for Concerned Childre n’s Advertisers, a nonprofit group of 26 Canadian companies helping children and their families by media and life-wise. Show them examples of false or exaggerated advertising claims, such as a breakfast cereal(谷类) making you bigger and stronger.

Shari Graydon, a media educator and past president of MediaWatch, suggests introducing children to the “marketing that doesn’t show”—the mascots(吉祥物) and web-sites that strengthen brand loyalty, the trading toys that cause must-have-it fever and the celebrity endorsements(代言). “Explain that advertisers pay millions of dollars for celebrities to endorse a product, and that the people who buy the product end up sharing the cost,” she says.

3.Supervise with sensitivity

According to a survey conducted by the Media Awareness Network in 2001, nearly 70 per cent of children say parents never sit with them while they surf the Net and more than half say parents never check where they’ve been online. The states for TV habits paint a similar picture.

A 2003 Canadian Teach ers’ Federation study of children’s media habits found that roughly 30 per cent of children in Years Three to Six claim that no adult has input into their selection of TV shows; by Year Eight, the figure rises to about 60 per cent.

“Research suggests that kids benefit more from having parents watch with them than having their viewing time limited,” says Graydon, noting that many children have TV sets in their bed-rooms, which effectively free them from parental supervision. And what exactly does “supervision” mean? “Rather than ridiculing your child’s favorite show, game or web-site, which will only create distance between you, you can explain why certain media messages conflict with the values you’d like to develop in your child,” Graydon says.

If you’re put off by coarse language in a TV show, tell your child that hearing such language sends the (false) message that this is the way most people communicate when under stress. If violence in a computer game disturbs you, point out that a steady diet of onscreen violence can weaken sensitivity towards real-life violence. “And when you do watch a show together,” adds Graydon, “discuss some of the hidden messages, both good and bad.”

4. Say no without guilt

I’m not proud to admit it, but when Tara asked me if I could take her shopping, I ended up saying yes. More precisely, I told her that if she continued to work hard and do well in school, I would take her over the school holidays. The holidays have now passed and I still haven’t taken her, but I have no doubt she’ll remind me of it soon enough. When I do take her, I intend to set firm limits (both on the price and the clothing items) before we walk into the store.

Still, I wonder why I gave in so quickly to Tara’s request. Author Thompson sa ys that my status as a baby boomer may provide a clue. “We boomer parents spring from a consumer culture in which having the right stuff helps you fit in,” she explains. “Our research has shown that even parents in poor homes will buy Game Boys over nece ssities.” In fact, 68 per cent of parents routinely give in to their kids’ requests.

To counteract this tendency, Graydon says parents have to “learn, or relearn, how to say no.” And what if the child calls you a miser or reminds you that her best friend has four Barbies (芭比娃娃) and she doesn’t even have one? Graydon suggests practicing this mantra (祷文) :“We create our own family rules according to our own family values. We create our own family rules according to our own family values. We create …”

5.Offer alternatives

As parents know, saying “You can’t have that” only intensifies a kid’s desire for whatever “that” is. Rather than arbitrarily restricting their TV or computer time to protect them from media influence, Jeff Derevensky, a professor of applied child psychology at McGill University, suggests creating a list of mutually acceptable alternatives. “If you want to encourage your children to build towers or play board games, be prepared to participate,” he says. “Many kids will do these a ctivities with their parents but not with other kids.”

Miranda Hughes, a part-time physician and mother of four, fills her home with such basics as colored pencils and paints, craft materials, board and card games, building toys, a piano with the lid per manently open, sheet music and books of all kinds. “I also offer my own time whenever possible,” she says. Although Hughes has a television in her house, “complete with 150 channels,” she says her kids watch only about an hour a week. “I haven’t had to i mplement any rules about TV or computer use,” she says. “There’s usually something else my kids would rather be doing.”