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.