How are we going to get our kids to enjoy what they have in life and not get caught up with the materialism and commercialism of our society? I have pondered this question a lot since becoming a parent. Throughout my life I have often consciously rebelled against being materialistic and it continues today. In fact, one of the underlying themes of this website is the escape from the clutches of materialism and consumerism by identifying what you really value in this world and pursue it for the good of your family. We have to be careful however to not get frustrated with our kids desire to want everything that looks cool, it’s just human nature.
It was in my third year of University, floundering in my chosen path to become a science teacher, when I decided to take an economics course. This one class made me reconsider my future and Economics ultimately ended up as my major. Unlike the other subjects I took up to that point, Economics actually got me thinking about the world and the affect our choices have on our society. In my very first lesson I was introduced to the basic economic principle of scarcity and this alone gave me perspective I didn’t have before. The law of scarcity essentially concludes that humans have unlimited wants and we live in a world unable to fulfill all of these wants. No matter how much we aquire we will still want more. This need to consume drives our economy, has fuelled innovation, and has created the luxuries we enjoy every day. Our economy will never stop changing because, as a society, we will never get to a point where we feel we have enough and we do not want more. I often perceived this as a trap that is impossible to escape; if we always want more then we are never fulfilled and if you are never fulfilled can you really be satisfied with your life and be truly happy?
This is a trap many people fall into since no matter how much wealth you do accumulate you will be no closer to having all you want because there is no end to what you want. There is also no relationship between happiness and wealth. So here we are with three kids who want everything they see and I know that giving them what they want will not satisfy them because they are simply going to want more. Kids are very materialistic these days but not because they are different from generations in the past, there is simply more stuff available for them to want and it is easier to obtain than ever before.
So how do we make our kids less materialistic? How can we prevent them from being affected by the constant invasion of commercialism? While I think that minimizing advertising exposure is important I don’t think it is wise to try and isolate them completely from the realities of our materialistic culture. I think our kids will be fine, as long as we help them gain the tools needed to figure out what they really value in the long term. This is where experiencing life becomes so important.
I have heard a lot of parents say “I didn’t have a lot growing up and I want to give our kids all the things I didn’t have”. Will burying them in stuff they say they want make them happier? It will turn them into great consumers. Instead these parents may have been better off saying “I would like to do with my kids the things I remember loving to do as a child plus doing some of the things I wished I could do”. If we get them hooked on experiencing life than would they not develop values on their own that would be stronger than any advertising campaign? This is not going to stop our kids from wanting more, but instead of wanting more stuff, maybe they will want to do more and learn more.
My childhood was filled with experiences and now as an adult I would presume, when compared to the average North American, I would be considered to be non-materialistic. I am not immune from the law of scarcity, far from it, as no matter how much I have experienced and no matter how much I have learned I still want more. While I cannot claim to be free from commercialism and materialism, that would be against human nature, I am comfortable with my place in society and I feel that I am in control with allocating my resources towards what I value most. With commercialism stronger than ever and our society being more materialistic all the time will the simple philosophy of choosing experience over material goods be enough of an antidote for our children? We will let you know in twenty years.