Consumer Kids and Their Plastic Lives

I went to Bath & Body Works at the mall one morning just before the Christmas shopping season. There I was, an adult with a good job and a career, and I was scrounging for sales and coupons so that I could spend $10 and get items worth $33. In the checkout line there was a woman and her daughter—the girl was about 10 years old and very chubby. The woman was buying a bunch of expensive lotions, fragrances, etc., and she put it on a charge card. The clerk asked the lady for her email to update the computer, and the lady replied that the items were “her daughter’s purchase.” So the girl, with a huge smile on her face, gave the clerk her email and got her bag of luxury-item goodies. The child then turned around to leave the store. I then noticed the words plastered on her t-shirt in huge, obnoxious letters:

I Love to Shop
AND SPEND MY MONEY
All the Time

Unfortunately, that little girl is merely a poster child for the rest of America’s children as a result of the intemperance of the bubble years, brought to us by the government’s money machine, the Federal Reserve. The Fed’s expansion of credit and the money supply gave birth not only to all those “no money down” subprime mortgages but the “buy now, pay later” culture of credit-card debt, mountains of which the American public piled up throughout the Greenspan/Bernanke years.   

So there was Mom, teaching her child that at 10 years old she too can have luxury items at premium prices, because life is all about spending money (Mom and Dad’s money) and accumulation. Perhaps Mom should be teaching her young daughter about preserving her body and health for the long term, instead of blasting through the malls putting her random desires on charge cards? The child’s obesity, the adult luxury items on a credit card, the t-shirt declaring that accumulation brings pleasure—these are all signs of a depraved and appalling culture that is destroying a large segment of the current generation. Parents are zealously passing on their financial irresponsibility and spiritless lives to their children. That woman’s brainless imprudence will become that poor child’s future.

Years of credit bubble-ignited consumer excesses in America have produced one aftermath that is markedly tragic—the professional child consumer. Children learn, from a very early age, that life is enabled by money because it is money that buys them all the stuff they want to own. Kids have become professional consumers. They covet so they buy, courtesy of parents who are financial slaves to their children’s infantile impulses.

Don’t blame the kids—they have grown up as the progeny of shop-a-holics. They have been taught to relieve boredom by going to the mall and aimlessly wandering, looking for something to buy, whether or not it is desirable or useful. In fact, whole families frequently roam the malls, going from store to store, passing the time because the parents are bored and don’t have a clue about inspiring their children to engage in cerebral or productive activities. Kids, especially those in the suburban middle class, seem to have little interest in hobbies, crafts, or self-centered activities.  They are not content to be alone. They must be surrounded by people and things that entertain and amuse; the mall has become the new home away from home.

Shopping and buying has become a form of therapy for this generation. Purchasing new things makes kids happy. At times it seems to define their existence. It’s only a short-term happiness because they soon get bored and want something else. Whereas hobbies engage and shape the mind for the longer term, discretionary shopping as a means of ‘entertainment’ provides a temporary stimulation that only lasts as long as the shopping trip or purchase.

A truly unfortunate development is the compulsion to shop among young boys. Where it was once the male posture to loathe and avoid malls, young males have become every bit as addicted as the girls. Instead of spending time shooting shotguns in the woods and blowing up things behind the garage with chemistry sets, they obsess on buying skinny jeans and overpriced, paper-thin t-shirts from Hollister.

Kids and parents alike are fools for peer pressure, and thus they usually want what other people have. One bizarre trend that has become painfully apparent is young, middle-class girls being in possession of posh items such as a Coach purse—which typically cost $350 and up. Not only is this a sign of financial folly, but it only reinforces the perception that these kids are adept at identifying luxury consumer items and maneuvering the purse strings of their parents until they get the object of their obsession.

Another most remarkable phenomenon of the present times is the epidemic of big bash blowouts for kids. For instance, birthdays and special events used to be times for intimate celebrations with close family and friends. Outside of the truly wealthy, these celebrations were generally simple and inexpensive. The boom years, however, produced the mindset that children must have elaborate gatherings. Every communion, birthday, and graduation is now an historic moment that demands an oversized, exorbitant party at a rented hall or other notable venue such as the local yacht club, pricey bistro, beach house, or other suitable parlor with rental options. I guarantee you that among discerning consumer-children and their upwardly parents, the neighborhood VFW hall is not an option. Every event in a child’s life therefore becomes a big party to spend big dollars—each kid has to have a social gathering more impressive then the last event hosted by some other kid at school. The parents feed this mentality by endorsing the child’s grandiloquent wishes, and then they fund it. Usually, it’s another priceless Mastercard moment. Kids scoff at the thought of a birthday party at the home, inviting a few of their best friends. How unworthy they’d feel!

Of course, there will always be people who will blame the corporations and their peddling techniques. Granted, there is a pervasiveness of marketing campaigns aimed at children, but it is the adults who choose to plant their kids in front of the babysitting boob tube or drag them around the malls as a hobby, perpetually exposing them to the over-commercialized facets of life. The spend-o-rama habits of the bubble-addicted masses have facilitated the perfect target market for companies looking to capitalize on kids who heavily influence family spending habits and financial decisions. Gone are the days when parents said “no” (and when no comebacks were accepted). So let’s not blame it on the “evil” corporations and marketing titans. The shop-and-spend tone funded by government monetary policy is cultivated and encouraged within the home.

Perhaps the worse outcome in all of this is that kids have been taught to consume, consume, and consume more, but they never learn that they have to be a producer in order to become a consumer.

Young children are strangers to hard work or chores, and teenagers are no longer expected to get a job outside of the home and produce in order to consume. Thus they don’t learn the importance of working, saving, developing practical options, and arranging priorities. Instead, kids learn to make meaningless brand distinctions, they discover what things merit bragging rights, and they become proficient in keeping up with the Joneses.

Producing and saving just isn’t going to cut it with these kids. They have been trained to splurge beyond their means and have not been taught to plan for their futures. And this generation, unless they modify their behavior and slash their consumer compulsions, may very well have some bleak prospects ahead of them.

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