204. Young Consumers

The vehicles shown on the TV commercial are zooming through galaxies at speeds that would make light seem to be obstructing traffic. And young space cadets want these vehicles. So they ask, beg, nag, whine, save up allowance, or whatever they have to do to get the coveted items. Somehow, they just have to own this or that. Their lives won’t be complete until they own the greatness that, for now, can only be seen on the TV screen. And then, finally, the long-awaited moment arrives (long-awaited from a child’s point of view).
The first moments are glorious. The spacecraft doesn’t actually leave earth’s atmosphere, but imagination is a great vehicle, and the dollars spent on this fantasy seem well worth it. Friends come over, perhaps bringing along their vehicles, perhaps only dreaming and envying. No one has any doubt that this has been a wise purchase, or if they do doubt, the wise ones keep it to themselves. We may be able to fight City Hall, but I don’t think we can fight Madison Avenue as effectively. If you’ve found a way, please write an article about it.
At some point, the child begins to realize that the prized possession is really just another piece of plastic, and the craft returns to the Milky Way, finds that familiar medium-sized yellow star, zooms to the third planet, and lands in your child’s closet, where many other pieces of plastic long ago found their resting places.
You want to remind your child of all the effort it took to get that item, and maybe you do bring it up. But no, you just don’t understand. You aren’t with it. Nobody plays with Space Cruisers any more. Space Cruisers are antiques. The really cool things to have, now, are Intergalactic RV’s. Space Cruisers don’t even have Super Command Modules! And so, more allowance is saved, or more nagging energy is spent.
I haven’t found a way to increase children’s awareness of what’s going on. I’ve tried Penny Power magazine, published by Consumer Reports. It’s had some good ideas. I’ve tried to lecture children about consumerism, and I’ve tried cross-examining them in both gentle and less gentle ways. I’ve set limits for my own children, sometimes resulting in arguments. But as I argued, I also remembered. I remembered wanting the coonskin cap that would let me be Davy Crockett, only to decide, a few weeks or months later, that I wanted the mask and cape that would make me Zorro. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad.
What I do now is trust that young consumers will eventually learn what we old consumers learned – that things ain’t always what they seem to be. And meanwhile, I try to be more interested in the space travel than in the rip-off aspect of the new toy. I try to enjoy what the child enjoys. Sooner or later, if a purchase wasn’t wise, the child will figure that out. Meanwhile, let’s try to join in the fun.

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