These days, whenever I ask my husband to pick movies for our weekend movie nights, he would go for anything with kids in them, and he would keep talking about those movies for days. We both love kids. So much. As a recently wed couple, we will have to wait for some time to get ourselves ready for our own kids. Nevertheless, it could not stop us reading and talking about kids, walking around the neighboring park in our evenings to see kids playing, or even constantly stalking the pictures of friends’ children posted on Facebook.
This weekend, as a change, my husband suggested to watch a documentary – with a baby theme. “Consuming kids”documentary was our pick. It was about how companies, through various marketing strategies, have transformed children into one of the most powerful and profitable consumer demographics in the world. It has long been a disturbing subject to me seeing the market for kid products has expanded even to many developing countries. Although I enjoy checking out children pictures my friends posted on Facebook, I could not be so sure some pictures they proudly show their kids, some are as young as toddler, with hi-tech electronic devices are good for their welfare. There are many pictures that, before dropping “congratulations” lines in the comment box for a newly born baby, we often find having a hard time finding the baby in the picture because a lot of stuff surrounded are dominantly shown in the picture.
Researches have clearly shown that the more a kid spends time watching TV or playing computer games, the more vulnerable they are to be influenced by consumerism. Having exposed to those electronic devices at their tender age, a kid has more likely to be exposed to various commercials earlier and tends to embrace material culture more easily. One time I had an evening out with one of my friends’ family in Cambodia. My friend’s youngest son who was about three years old pointed at a telecom company’s billboard on a roadside by saying “I want “OK”". That made us surprised since he could not read and he could not understand what the company and product was about. What he recognized was the guy on the billboard making an “OK” sign. My friend explained me that the kids had watched the TV commercial of that telephone company and they had known the company and its products as “OK”. They liked the ads and they wanted its products even though they were too young to need them.
When I was in the United States, I visited families with kids. The girls would show us their dolls and all sorts of toys. They would say – this is my dolls named this and that. And, when asked how about that tiny ones, those are my dolls’ dolls and this is my purse, that one is my doll’s and her heels and so on. Those kids have the pint-size versions of everything an adult has and their dolls have every miniature version of every stuff they have. Families’ purchasing volume increases double, triple and multiple times. Children are prematurely exposed to the kinds of products which they do not need yet and a lifestyle required excessive buying and spending all the time.
Another friend of mine in Phnom Penh showed me an invitation card which is a fancy and glossy one. When I asked which event it was for, she explained me it was just for an eight-year old girl birthday invitation and more than 200 people were invited. My jaw just dropped. Obviously, parents believe that a big and fancy party could make their kids look ‘cool’ among their peers. So, many other parents decide to pull out all stops to make even a bigger show for their offspring. And, the bigger the show goes on, the less content children feel with what he/she has. I have no doubt and no question over parents’s desire to give the best to their children. However, under the pressure of materialism and a spread of swallow culture in the society, it seems parents are having a hard time to resist consumerism and they forget to help the kids develop other values and aptitudes other than shop and shop, more and more for them.
“Our primary identity has become that of being consumers – not mothers, teachers, or farmers, but of consumers! We shop and shop and shop . . .” – Annie Leonard, Story of Stuff.
Being grown up in a village, almost all the clothes and school uniforms I wore until after high school were the hand-me-downs from my elder brother and sister and other elder cousins. We usually got our own new clothes once or twice a year at most. Around the annual harvest time, my mother or dad took us to a local store and each of us could pick a dress or a set. Our parents’ preferences for kids clothing are very basic – they must be simple looking, durable and fine quality with a reasonable price so that we can wear them at many occasions without looking worn out and handed them down to our younger siblings. My family did not own a TV until I was in high school – leave alone other electronic entertainment and communications devices today’s children enjoying even before they reach to the age of a toddler. For foods, Family’s once-a-year meal time at a local dinner was such an amazing event for us which we remembered for years. And, I still could not forget about those about one-foot tall cookie tin boxes my parents got for me as a reward for doing well in exams. Today’s kids have many more choices even for foods they can choose - from fancy lunch boxes from the global franchised restaurants to different sorts of ready-made foods beautifully packed. Indeed, they look fancy. The health claim on the bag would say how healthy it is for kids. But, I doubt that they are really healthy for the kids regardless of whatever the label on the bags say. And, I doubt that today’s kids will remember those abundant food bags when they got older like we did for a single tin box we got like once a year.
We are in the era – a women could not die at child birth and, with vaccines and all sort of preventable measures, infant mortality rate has been sharply going down across the globe. With new development in medicine and medical technology, we could prevent almost all old diseases killing and preventing our kids from being well grown up into an able and productive adult. We have reached to the best human society for a woman to be a mother and to see kids growing up healthy and happily. However, because of our failure to resist consumerism, today’s children have suffer the diseases that vaccines could not prevent. The number of children who live with child obesity, diabetes and even child cancer, and etc have more than ever before.
Now, our country has opened up, and, with the political stability, I am pretty much optimist that our road to economic growth is very unlikely to face a setback and as it goes on this pace steadily, sooner or later, many families will be out of poverty and a strong middle class will emerge. And our consumption power will increase – there is nothing bad about it. However, we should have drawn our limit line before we are stuck with too much Chinese stuff and before we reach to the point we are too attached to materialist values and processions and our forests and resources are gone under the exploitation of Chinese firms. We should have learned how to resist the products we do not need, we should have made our home, not at MacDonald, for “happy meals” and “happy family time” and we should know how to leisure at a place which is not a shopping mall. And, more importantly, minimize the time of your children on screens, and support your farmers by buying locally grown/made fresh vegetables and products (not just by the Facebook ‘like’ click on farmers’s protest pictures).
And, we all will have to stand up together to pressure the government to regulate proper rules and regulations which would secure our welfare and that of our future generations.
Here are some links we could seek professionals help and tips how to resist consumerism for your future and for your kids’ future.