Friday, 19 September 2008

Consumer Bullying

Apparently, a survey has shown that around 55% of teens here in the UK have been bullied because they didn’t have the right products, be that the latest designer trainers, computer game, mp3 player or some other object that's considered ‘cool’.

I know what it’s like to have children bullied by their peers - it puts a LOT of pressure on parents. We have our own standards and ethics that we try to live by yet at the same time the last thing we want is to put our children through the torture of being sent to school each day to meet the bullies and live another day of hell. Because for the kids concerned, it really can be hell, so much so that some teens choose to end their lives rather than face another day of it.

How do we bring our children up to understand the value of things and that true happiness and contentment with life can’t be found in stuff when they’re receiving the opposite message whenever they set foot outside the home? In fact, they don’t even need to do that. All they need to do is switch on the television or open a magazine to be told that they should have whatever they want ‘because they’re worth it’? (The one advert that really make me cringe right now is the one for DFS furniture that uses Nickleback’s ‘Rockstar’ with all it's "I want..." messages).

I clearly remember my daughter asking for a £70 pair of shoes. This while we were living in an area where most people were on benefits and therefore couldn’t have had (shouldn’t have had?) much of a disposable income. Although I was working, I was on a low income and £70 was a lot of money, probably about what I had left each month after carefully budgeting for the bills, food and other necessities. Out of that I had to clothe my children, furnish our home (it was very basic back then) and run a car, the latter of which was important to me because of Paul, who was difficult to travel on public transport with. Seventy quid for a pair of shoes wasn’t only way above and beyond what I would have considered reasonable for a pair of school shoes, it was impossible to find. The result? She got bullied. Badly.

Eventually both girls were bullied to such an extreme that they were taken out of school. They were too afraid to go there - in fact, they were too afraid to even leave the house without me with them. Up until that point, they’d believed that the answer to their problems lay in having the right stuff, but eventually realised that no amount of worldly goods would ever be ‘good enough’ - the bullies would still find something to pick on them for.

And that’s it. Therein lies the dilemma. Do we give in and buy all sorts of stuff for our kids, supporting the consumer band-wagon and possibly putting ourselves into debt, or do we try to help our children understand that the bullying would go on regardless? That being the ‘cool kid’ isn’t always what it appears to be? That attitude is far more important than material status? How far do we let things go before we cave in to their consumer demands?

Mary Whitehouse may have seemed a bit extreme to most of us but she did have a point when she said that television was corrupting society only these days it’s the adverts I’m opposed to. I realise they’re a necessary evil if we’re to have ‘free view’ channels but what kind of freedom is there in being drip fed with non-information about stuff we should have but really don’t need? I don’t care how much people say “It’s our choice”, It’s akin to brain-washing and unless we’re very strong, it’s easy to be misguided, especially while we‘re young and susceptible to all sorts of influences. Yes, we can turn the TV off but does that really mean our teens will never be exposed to it? Of course not.

I don’t have the answer to the problem (but oh how I wish I did!) but it’s a sad state of affairs when our children’s lives are being wrecked because of the pressures of our money oriented consumer society. All I hope is that the credit crunch will have more parents thinking twice about what they buy their kids, and that some of the pressure will eventually lift.

Sharon J


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emmani said...

So true Sharon... Advertising is disgusting these days!

My Mum could never afford nice shoes for me, I coveted a pair of shiny black patent shoes for years!

At school one Christmas my best friend and I set up a sneaky gift swap to deter the bullies... we wrapped up a pair of cheap moccasin slippers each and exchanged in front of the bullies. The obvious question was "What is it? We told them we had bought each other 'Wallabies' a very cool, but expensive 90's fashion! We didn't open them of course, making us look even cooler because we were so secretive!

It's very sad the games we have to play just to fit in. I hope to God we can teach our daughter to respect what is really important.

Indian kids won't even open a present until you've gone, they don't want to offend anyone or look like they are being smug about what they've received... very well mannered and considerate.

Anonymous said...


Although i'd agree about the evils of advertising, i also think that society in general has swung too far the other way in terms of liberalism.. letting people (especially kids) off the hook easily, teaching them that crime actually does pay.. if, like me, you read blogs written by people who serve society (like policemen - inspector gadget is a good one to start with) then you know the reality, that the courts are releasing people left right and center with a slap on the wrist, that they are being told to keep people out of prison cos the jails are full. and yet, really, whats the alternative? is it so much that the prisons are full.. or is it that the space "allowed" for prisoners has not kept pace with the population expansion? if you assume a certain %age of the population will be in prison at any one time, then in 2008 you're going to need more prison cells/beds than you would in 1998, its simple maths.

I too was badly bullied at school (so was my OH). i don't know what the answer is: only, i hope my kids (when i have them) either don't get bullied, or don't turn into bullies themselves. I really don't know how i would react if i found out that one of my children was making someone else's life a misery..

anyway, will try to stop ranting now. lol. its a pet peeve of mine, all this..


shabby chic said...

Hi Sharon,
I totally agree with everything you have said. We just hope that when we bring up children we can bring them up as strong individuals that know things like that dont matter, but the reality around them doesnt help matters.

Jade of the Jungle said...

I think it must be so tough being a kid in this day and age. Actually on the train back from hols last week I was sitting next to two teenage girls, maybe about 14. They were talking about their diets and going to the gym and how they had fat thighs and wanted to look like Victoria had an eating disorder - and was proud of it! I was so so so so sad for her. But when they're surrounded by magazines and tv shoes peppered with nothing but size 0 women you can understand how they'd be swayed. It's really sad.


Frugal Trenches said...

Oh I've really missed your posts.

I find this such an issue here in the UK, moreso than where I lived abroad, even though they didn't have school uniforms. I actually think it is worse here because we have school uniforms so it's like on what kids can control they have to go OTT.

I hope I have children and when that happens, I hope to be able to send them to an alternative school (a bit like Steiner) filled with parents who are non for consumerism. Of course I hope to also instil in them a spirit that can see like isn't about "keeping up with the Jones'" but that usually comes in at least your 20's and its oh so much harder as a teen. I have a couple of friends who homeschool for those reasons. There kids are fabulous, social, have hobbies and interests with kids their own age, but very much enjoy being out of the pressure of education!

Sharon J said...

@ Emmani. LOL at your pressie exchange.

In Norway it's the opposite of India. Children are taught to open all but Christmas presents (they're to be opened on Christmas Eve) in front of the giver and to react in a polite and thankful manner because it isn't about whether or not they like the gift, it's about the fact that somebody took the trouble to give them one.

@ Kethry. I agree that society is rapidly starting to fall apart. Young people DO get away with too much these days. My own daughter has to do 12 days in prison soon because of a drunken argument she got into. Even though nobody was physically hurt, she caused a scene and was verbally abusive to a policeman. What would have happened here? She'd have been told to go home, sober up and behave in the future.

@ Shabby Chic. My kids haven't turned out badly (the above may make it sound bad but it wasn't THAT bad and hopefully she's learned her lesson) but it is difficult when there are so many pressures around them.

@ Jade of The Jungle. Sadly, your story doesn't surprise me at all. I think a lot of parents are to blame too though - they even dress babies like teenagers these days, and in 'designer gear'. Why?!

@ Frugal Trenches. Lovely to have you back :)

If I could raise my children again, I'd either send them to an alternative school or home educate them right from the start. My youngest was home educated from 14 because of the bullying and it turned her life around.

I also agree re uniforms. There wasn't anywhere near as much bullying in Norway (although it does happen everywhere) even though they didn't wear school uniforms.