Taming Consumerism in Young Children

beating consumerism
Photo Credit: Aaron Muszalski

It’s true. Every child is unique. My elder daughter J has learned the lesson quite well but my son K can’t seem even to get the message.

With exposure from TV and the Internet, children are vulnerable to all sorts of advertisements from a very young age. And quietly they are influenced to think that getting things is something they must do.

Lately, K has become very persistent. He wants everything. And he wants it now. He doesn’t have the patience to wait and he is very strong-willed.

When he can’t get his hand at things he wants, he gets cranky. He throws tantrums.

In my book of parenting, this behavior is totally unacceptable.

In the latest incident, it happened in a shopping mall last Sunday.

The scene was set in a bookstore.

At Least One Thing

K wanted to buy Ben 10 comic book. Before that he wanted to buy a marker pen. I told him these items were nice to have and he didn’t need them anyway. I told him he needed to give me reasons for the purchase. He couldn’t and of course I said no.

Then he cried… for quite some time. Despite the awkward looks from onlookers, I stood firm on my stand. I had to deliver a consistent message.

Later I found out K told my wife that he wanted to buy at least one thing during shopping. Wow that’s amazing, I thought.

In another shop, he saw some swimming trunks with Ben 10 pictures on them. He wanted to buy one and this time he was smart. He gave me a reason. The reason was he wanted to take up swimming lesson. I told him that was a good reason but we had to sign up for the lesson first before getting one of those.

K was trying his luck. He just wanted to get something out of the shopping trip… at least one and he would be a happy boy.

I know I was mean but I did that for his own good. I was trying to teach him self-control. If I don’t say no now, he will develop an unhealthy spending habit which can later be blown out of proportion when he grows up.

The whole point of my action is this: I want to curb impulsive purchasing in my children and inculcate conscious spending from young.

Purchase Checklist

Before any purchase, I want K (and J, to a lesser extent) to give me reasons why he needs to buy something. If the reason given makes sense and I am convinced with it, I’ll buy. Otherwise, the answer is no.

In the future I am going to include another question in the purchase filtering checklist: Can we get the product cheaper or even free elsewhere?

All this is to provoke them to think so that they purchase consciously and not compulsively. As a result of that, they only buy what they really need and not what fancies them (or what their friends have).

An Extra Lesson on Spending

J saw the whole ordeal at the bookstore and more. Then she threw us an interesting question: Why some parents buy whatever the child wants?

Good question and it’s time for another lesson. I told them if I don’t control what they buy, they will buy everything they want (most of which will end up useless anyway). They will think that parents can afford to buy everything and anything. Since everyone has limited resources of money, we have to spend wisely. We also have to learn how to save by not spending all that we have or worse… overspending.

Plus I don’t want to give them the idea that they can get anything without any effort on their part. They have to earn it if they want anything.

(Even though we are from rich family, we should not let the kids know that they can buy anything they want)

I know this lesson is hard for them to digest. I hope they can understand the point I am trying to get across.

Standing Firm

It’s not only hard for them, it’s hard for me too. No right-minded parents want to see their own children sad and cry. I know if I say no to their purchase requests, to some degree, I will make them sad, or disappointed… or even cry out loud. Nevertheless I have to be firm even though they don’t like it.

From the surface, I might look like a mean father. But I’d rather be mean now than seeing my children become the victims of consumerism later. This is the best opportunity to give my children real-life money lessons.

Deep down I know I have done the right thing and one day my children will thank me for today’s lesson.

After a while and before we went home, K stopped crying and calmed down. He requested to have tea break. Not wanting to sound all the way negative, I agreed and brought him to a cafe for a tea break to soothe his nerves.

See Also…

What Lessons To Teach Your Child About Money?

Money Saving Recipe: Mix Old Habits With New Techniques

Teaching Kids About Money and Finances: An Interview with J.F. (Jim) Straw