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The Decline of Consumer Kids!

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The biggest gift of the recession is the opportunity to re-parent a population of American kids who were growing up in a consumerism craze.

kid thinking of kid playing with a wii

Dr. Wendy Walsh: As I was walking through a festive shopping mall this past holiday season, my eyes were spinning with the exciting displays. My hands almost trembled as I stroked the piles of soft cashmere sweaters and the smooth leather wallets. I was having this fabulous sensory stimulation for one big reason -- I hadn't seen the inside of a shopping mall for about a year. True story. This mom's sneaky way to tighten purse strings during the recession was to avoid stores at all costs. (Grocery stores and pharmacies were exempt.) And yesterday I had a new appreciation for the joys of consumerism. Even though my budget was small, the actual shopping experience took on new meaning.

And if it felt this good to me, imagine how my jaded kids, who had once used shopping as a playdate activity (I know -- shoot me), will come to appreciate money and stuff.

I like to say there is an opportunity in every crisis. When the money machine that ate our time and our attention screeched to a halt over a year ago, many people panicked. Was this the dawn of another Great Depression? Then, as time passed and we were all still breathing, eating, and exercising, we adjusted our lives to this new world. Now my kids and I have gotten used to this slower way of life and have a new respect for work, money, and leisure time. The psychology of money is a learned behavior.

So, beginning last spring, when my kids continued their habit of asking for stuff (had they not heard about the stock market?), I suggested selling old toys on eBay or holding yard sales. Let me tell ya, those gently used American Girl dolls are like a war survivor's gold. And what a lesson in entrepreneurial skills to be a shop owner in the free market.

It was also surprisingly fun to purge our stuff and plan for the mother of all yard sales. Yard sales, which I sheepishly admit used to be regarded by "moi" as an industry of the lesser class, have today become a cherished family activity. It takes us a whole weekend to sort, price, and "stock" our yard. And watching my kids try to upsell a customer (really, if you're going to take the shoes, you must have the cute bag, too!) is priceless. After the cleanup and final load given to charity, I have to say that living with less stuff has felt somehow liberating. There's room in my house to breathe and relax.

I think the greatest gift of this "readjustment" is the gift of time. We share meals with other families far more often. I love to have the time to really build deep relationships. Since all those pricey after-school classes have become prohibitive (really, do children need to be spinning pottery at 30 bucks an hour?), my kids are now far less scheduled, and far more relaxed. We have had unexpected moments of happiness doing "nothing." Our summer was spent at the beach being lazy -- just like when I was a kid.

I think this recession is a huge gift to our children. Things had gotten out of control. When a version of Barnum & Bailey showed up for 2-year-old birthday parties, and kids owned jeans that cost nearly as much as mommy's mortgage payment, well, things were clearly out of whack. Now our children are learning the wonderful lessons of thrift, value, and the beauty of relationships. Happy New Year!

next: Dreaming of My Mother
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
ashley January 5, 2010, 4:52 AM

When I was younger, I shopped at the mall ALL the time. I was always a thrifty shopper (even in high school) so I never spent alot at once, but my bff and I used to skip school and go. Now, I haven’t been in years. I just can’t afford it. I miss it.

Tamara January 5, 2010, 11:16 AM

This is a great article, and so true. I especially like the part that said

“Now our children are learning the wonderful lessons of thrift, value, and the beauty of relationships”.

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