December 9th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a part of me that wants my kids to feel, at least in some relatively painless and abstract way, that the world is fucked.
I know that denying my kids presents won’t raise their consciousness; they’re three and six. A cheerful pile of gifts is not analogous with the sewer drain into which so many of my hopes for progress and assumptions about cultural cohesion have disappeared. But I can’t shake this certainty that some of our ways of living aren’t working. Does conspicuous consumption help our children grow into good citizens? Or does it make them less able take charge of their own happiness?
I buy my children gifts because I love them and want to show them that, but I also do it to shut them up. I don’t want to hear them whining about not having received what they asked for. But quite suddenly, this arrangement has come to seem cynical and depressing to me. I don’t want to appease them into silence—I want to help them to be resourceful and self-reliant. Those are qualities you can’t buy, no matter what some people might tell you. I’m not about to sanctimoniously conclude that we should only be buying our kids stackable wooden elephants and little handmade dolls made of felt. But I do think that toys often act as anesthetics, and that the way we shop for our kids is often at odds with what we want for them, or how we hope they turn out to be.
There is plenty of evidence that links consumerism with an overall diminished quality of life. In his 2002 book The High Price of Materialism, Tim Kasser presents data that indicates that materialistic value systems are often linked to lower self-esteem, higher volatility in relationships, and increased difficulty in feeling “competent.” Back in 1997, the Association for Consumer Research published a report indicating that children raised with “materialistic values” were more susceptible to influence from peers. Materialism isn’t innate in kids; parents nurture it by rewarding behaviors with treats and expressing love with gifts. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research indicated that parents’ use of treats to incentivize and reward good behavior can lead to materialistic attitudes in kids that can have worrisome implications later in life.