Parents put under by pressure by consumerist culture

FIONA QUINN was taken aback when her 12-year-old daughter revealed the latest Confirmation trend — designer cakes.

Parents put under by pressure by consumerist culture

Families, Molly explained, were having speciality cakes made for the big day in the shape of designer handbags such as Juicy Couture or Paul’s Boutique for example — and uploading photographs of them on Facebook.

Her ideal Confirmation cake, Molly decided, would have a trendy Converse shoe on top.

“This was a new trend — it caught me unawares,” says Fiona, a mother-of-four, who indeed got her daughter a beautiful Confirmation cake. Instead of a designer shoe, however, Fiona opted for a little figurine of Molly. And Molly was thrilled.

Living in an environment saturated by advertising, our children are increasingly brand-conscious. Watching some youngsters play ball in a car park at a GAA grounds recently, as they waited for older siblings to finish training, I couldn’t help noticing how similarly they were dressed — head-to-toe in expensive, branded sports-gear.

Every item — trainers, tracksuit bottom, jacket and cap — carried the logo of a big sportswear manufacturer.

Hats off then, to Hattie Garlick, the blogger who recently made headlines after she vowed not to spend a penny on her toddler, except for necessary medicine.

Garlick has decided to live the way our mothers and grandmothers lived; more frugally but with much less waste.

However, while it’s relatively easy to cut back when children are small, it’s a much harder task when they’re bigger, more peer conscious and very brand-aware.

Parents are under increasing pressure to buy in to today’s consumerist culture — and, despite the recession, kids continue to clamour for designer brands in everything from shoes to clothing and iPhones.

It should come as no surprise that 64% of parents feel their child puts them under pressure to buy something they’ve seen on TV or in advertisements, according to a survey by the Positive Childhood Campaign.

“We have a possession obsession. We’re obsessed with what we own, and defined by what we possess,” says Sheena Horgan, a youth and ethical marketing consultant and author of Candy Coated Marketing.

“Ireland is a very consumerist society and if we’re to move away from this obsession, we have to start with adults, particularly the parents.”

Brands created by marketing come with ready-made values, she warns — a product may be heavily marketed as ‘trendy’ or ‘healthy’ and consumers latch on to those values and aspire to them, she says.

Children are particularly susceptible to this, especially if the parents buy into it but also, alas, even if they don’t.

“Children want to fit in as they grow up. They look at their peers and what their peers are doing and what they are wearing,” she says, adding that sport in particular is a highly brand-conscious sector.

“Role models are clad head-to-foot in branded gear.”

Fiona, from Kilcully in Co Cork, whose children range between the ages of 11 and 18, agrees.

“There’s a lot of peer pressure on children to wear the right things, have the latest iPhone and go to the right concerts — and this is then pressure on parents,” she says.

“With my three boys, for example, their soccer boots always had to be a particular brand.

“You could be talking €135 a pair and they’d only have them a few months before they grew out of them and you’d have to get another pair.

“Sportswear is brand-orientated, more so than everyday clothes,” she adds, pointing out that when it comes to tracksuits most teenagers will want expensive brands like Canterbury, Nike or Reebok.

Although she says, her kids are sensible enough, and are good about not asking for too much, the older boys yearn after designer shoes like Lacoste or Converse which their pals are wearing.

“They’d get these things for Christmas or for a big family event and they understand that it’s an exceptional item which they will not get on a regular basis,” she says.

Parents should fight back against consumerism she says, pointing out that reductions in the children’s allowance, pay cuts and an avalanche of new taxes means they have less money than ever before.

“It’s poor parenting to give your child everything they want and it’s poor parenting to rear them to think they’ll always wear designer clothes. You just have to just stop, and go cold turkey and ignore the sulks.”

We cannot stop consumerism, says Horgan, but we can fight the way our children respond to the pressure. “Children need to be educated with the necessary life skills to discern when they are being marketed to. Parents should ensure children have the necessary skills to recognise and question the media and marketing landscape.”

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