Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When is Enough Enough?

It's not just adults who are enthralled with consumerism; it's children as well. They are marketed to aggressively and what they see and hear about they want. And parents give them what they want because those same parents are also ensnared in the "buy me, buy me" trap. But how much is enough? Is there ever a time when those pursuing happiness through owning things ever actually become happy?

A good story to base a discussion on with your children about when is enough enough is the old Grimm's standby "The Fisherman and his Wife."

The moral of the story is quite obvious. If you never become satisfied with what you have you will reach the point of collapse and find yourself back with nothing at all. That collapse is, in practical terms, when you have the credit and borrowing bubble burst. Or it's when you discover that indulging yourself in more for more's sake leads to budgetary woes that don't allow you to pay for what you absolutely must have, like food and basic shelter.

One parent who used the story for a discussion with her kids found that one of them didn't get the point and still wanted a very expensive electronic gadget. So the mother tried a different tack. She said he could have the gadget but he would have to give up other things so it could be paid for. The next morning she put a glass of water and one slice of toast on the table for this child's breakfast. When he complained that this wasn't what breakfast was supposed to be she told him that expensive cereals and the milk to go with them and orange juice were no longer going to be available because otherwise there would be no money for his gadget that he wanted. He had to make a choice: either the gadget or the foods he liked but not both. He argued for a while but by lunch time he finally came to see that physical hunger was a lot worse than hungering for possessions.

It's up to parents to open the discussion about how much is enough, and this tale makes a nice starting point. It also lends itself to discussion on the topic of ayzeh who ashir? sameach b'chelko.


JS said...

Good post. The link to ongoingtales doesn't work - there's no dash in the url.

Lion of Zion said...

"They are marketed to aggressively and what they see and hear about they want."

another reason to restrict tv watching for kids

it is also one of the reason i'm not a big fan of certain theme parks and some other venues of children's entertainment (what my friend calls "canned entertainment"). on the way home yesterday from our favorite destination for family fun i was talking with the mrs. about the reasons we like it so much. i mentioned that there is no gift/souvenir shop and no attempt to sell you on anything other than simply having fun for the day.

ProfK said...

Thanks JS, I fixed the link.

Lion, oh that it was only tv that was the culprit. There are also the ads on radio and in all types of print media specifically aimed at kids, and on the Internet. Then there are billboards and street advertising. And the hype in the stores. And then there is word of mouth among the kids. All it takes is one child to have Item A and all the others want it to. And yes, you are so right about the theme parks with their souvenir stands on every corner.

Lion of Zion said...

i don't think tv is the only cuprit, but i think it's a big one. (and "print media"? who reads?)

regarding word of mouth: i was driving my son's friend home from school (you know, on one of those really inconvenient half days) and had a really good time eavesdropping on their cute conversation in the back. at one point they were reading a book together and there was a picture of some animal. the boy mentioned he saw this animal in sesame place (?) and he asked my son if he'd been there. of course then he turned and asked me if i can take him there.

SephardiLady said...

TV is a culprit. But so is print advertising and having what "everyone" else has. Jewish publications have a lot of tempting print advertising.

JS said...

Sesame Place is the theme park for Sesame Street. I remember going there many, many years ago as a child.

I think a lot of it is just training your kids on needs and wants. You can never stop all temper tantrums and whines, but instilling the right value will prove immeasurable in the long run and more importantly, when your child is an adult.

I see many young couples who are just starting to work and suddenly think they're phenomenally wealthy. And why not? They never worked before in their lives, many have parents helping them out with real cash, and they get a paycheck! Like a kid (with money) in a candystore and without anyone to say "no" they splurge on the most ridiculous stuff. Everyone has giant HDTV's and $100+ "triple play" cable packages and on and on.

Also, I would add that not having a TV, or not letting your kid watch doesn't help much. From conversations with young parents I often hear surprise at their kid coming home and asking for X (or worse saying things that are said on the show X is on), when X is on a show they don't let their child watch. Kids talk. Peer pressure is everywhere. It's all about values.

Rae said...

One thing you didn't mention is that kids are imitative not just of other kids but of their parents and the other adults around them. When they see adults shopping and buying all kinds of things they learn that buying is a good thing. If dad or mom has a cell phone then they want one too. One of the toy companies makes a cell phone toy for toddlers. Even before they can really understand or read they are already being conditioned to buy.

Tuvi said...

Rae, I understand your comment about the toy cell phone but there is more to it then just teaching the kids to want things. Someone bought our kids a toy phone. It looks just like the phones that were around at least 20 plus years ago. It doesn't look like any of the phones my kids have at home or that they see in their friend's houses. My two year old didn't know what to do with it at first. She had never seen a dial phone before. So the toy cellphone is not just about getting the kids to want to buy some extra gadget but sometimes about being what is today's technology.

Lion of Zion said...

i don't agree with the political undertones of this:


but it is relevant to the post

Anonymous said...

i don't think tv is the only cuprit, but i think it's a big one. (and "print media"? who reads?)

TV is also losing its advertising sway because of DVR's. We have a TIVO for our TV, and we never watch anything live, and thus rarely watch the ads anymore. When the kids are watching something (Sesame Street, Arthur, etc) they naturally fast forward during breaks in the program. So they also rarely see the ads other than the "ads" embedded in the programs.


ProfK said...

Shmuely Boteach has written some articles I agree with wholeheartedly, but this isn't one of them. And, no surprise, I didn't like the article because I believe that it was poorly constructed and over-written. He made the type of errors that any Composition I instructor would have red pencilled. His logic needs some work as well.

On the basis of one law firm where he overheard a few snippets of conversation he is making comments about ALL Americans, comments that won't hold up for all Americans. His tone is harshly accusatory and condemning, thereby alienating more than a few readers. As you pointed out, his political partisanship, coming as it does at the beginning of the article, does not draw in all his readers but sends them on a track different from the one he was presumably heading on.

What comes across is that he is bashing America rather than presenting a problem that faces us that needs addressing and presenting some well-reasoned and well-thought out approaches to solving that problem.

Frankly, if he had turned this in to me I would have returned it marked "Unacceptable as written. Needs major revision."

Lion of Zion said...

it's a good thing you don't grade our comments

ProfK said...

I'm not in the business of grading comments on my blog :). But I do work as both an instructor of English and as a professional editor, and it's not only Boteach who comes in for criticism here; whoever edited this piece, assuming that someone did, did a very poor job.

Gila said...

Oh, now that is a clever mom!