Apparently many of us pushed our chairs back from the Thanksgiving feast, caught a few winks, then bundled the entire family into the car and headed to the local mall where we thought it made sense to wait in line for several hours to get into the stores that chose to open at 3 a.m. Here in Los Angeles, police had to be called to at least one location where a fight had broken out in line. I would not be surprised to learn that other sleep-deprived yet determined shoppers elsewhere had to deal with surly or downright physically hostile fellow crowd members as they all eagerly anticipated storming the gates and grabbing their bounty.
Have we lost our minds completely? I'm in favor of getting a bargain, but this seems extreme, not to mention dangerous. Do you want to risk getting punched in the nose, or worse, just so you can get that PlayStation Three? On the other hand, earlier today I watched an eBay auction for one close at $1,175.00 -- obviously it was purchased by somebody who chose to sleep late on Black Friday. But would this buyer's life, or his child's, be ruined if he didn't get one by Christmas? Spoken like someone who doesn't have kids, I've been told. True. I don't feel the holiday pressures for presents that many parents do. Still, I am deeply troubled by this level of desperate acquisitiveness.
Another disturbing fact is that the "status shopping" mentality is starting to kick in at a progressively younger age. In the Friday, November 24th issue of the L.A. Times, Alana Semuels wrote a column entitled, "Gucci and Prada for the under-13 Crowd." According to her research, tweens, i.e. kids from the ages of eight to twelve, "...are expected to contribute to the growing demand for luxury goods this winter." Tweens want luxury goods! The article continues, "Designer apparel represents about 9% of teenage clothing purchases... far greater than the percentage just a few years ago." I wonder how many adult, working women have 9% of their wardrobes devoted to designer apparel.
There's nothing new about kids wanting to be "cool" and believing that they need certain things to achieve that goal. But for kids to want expensive designer items, they must be exposed to advertising, television and movie stars, musicians and other performers that instill those desires. We're living in a media-driven society so it's not realistic to imagine cutting them off from that kind of exposure. It's hard enough for mature minds to battle successfully against the constant barrage of messages to buy things, buy more things, buy more expensive things. We can't expect children to be more discerning than we are.
And yet, what's the real price of this new, early awareness and coveting of brand status? On a positive note (I'm trying hard here), it can teach children that a higher-quality purchase is a better choice than buying a lot of lesser-quality items. But that's a pretty sophisticated concept for a ten-year-old to grasp. In fact, it's a concept that seems to elude many adults.
I do believe that life is supposed to be as joyful as we can make it, so that means that we don't need to deny ourselves those things we can afford if they will bring us joy. The problem is that, in the long run, things, no matter what they cost, often don't bring us joy at all; they just add to our collection of things. And now I'm concerned that we're allowing our children to set up expectations that stuff, especially expensive stuff, equals happiness. This is not the road we want them to travel.
I hope that during this holiday season, we all can take some time to explain to the kids in our lives that enduring happiness can't be bought. We can tell them that, yes, it's possible to buy a momentary thrill (think of hot chocolate on a cold afternoon!), a fashion season's pleasure, perhaps even something so special that we'll treasure it for many years, but we can't buy the deeper happiness that sustains us.
I hope that we can inspire them by practicing what we preach, too. We can start by having the whole family gather up as many unnecessary possessions as we can and then donating those unused, outgrown, excess items to a worthy charity. That creates a good feeling that your kids can hold onto for their entire lives. That's a little bit of true happiness.
© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob