How to raise non-consumerist kids

I was distressed when our son who is in 4th grade recently complained about the gray sweatshirt he received at Christmas. The problem? It did not have a ‘Puma’ logo on it! Apparently “everyone” at his elementary school only wears clothing that has logos on it.
Disclosure: my wife and I grew up during the 1960’s and 1970’s and thoroughly understand that this is not some sort of brand new phenomenon. Consumerist culture was certainly on the rise during that time and we are not so naïve as to be unaware that advertisers are directing more brand-awareness pressures at children and at much younger ages than was the case during our childhoods. The message is loud and clear in order to be cool one must have “Brand X”.

So what to do about it? Naturally, I explained to our son about advertisers preying on 4th graders and their leveraging peer pressure to generate additional sales. I explained how the same sweatshirt with the logo cost nearly twice as much as an identical sweatshirt w/out the logo……there was head nodding but I really don’t get the impression he’s old/sophisticated enough yet to understand what we talked about. He does, however, clearly understand that he is not cool because he does not have a logo sweatshirt.

My first impulse was to suggest that if he wants a Puma sweatshirt that badly he can save up for it and buy it with his own money but even this could be sending the wrong message. We’ve long stressed that if he really values something he should save up for it, and by suggesting he save up for the Puma sweatshirt it suggests/lends credence to the view that this is something he should value. I think we’ve done about as well as possible in setting a good example for him – I don’t think either parent owns an article of ‘designer’ clothing (although I guess I do have a couple professional sports team shirts I wear on occasion).
How can one raise children to not be brand-conscious this day and age?

I don’t think you’ve necessarily done or are doing anything wrong. I could give a flying crap about name brand clothes or pretty much anything today, and I was like that even through most of my youth, but there was some time, right in that age range, that peer pressure was important to me. I was in 4th grade over 20 years ago, but I remember it was right around then that the the whole Reebok Pump thing was HUGE in my age range and I remember begging my mom for them even though she couldn’t afford them. I ended up getting them, but I think it was something like she’d spend $X for reasonable shoes and I had to pony up the rest out of my allowance. They were the coolest thing ever for a few weeks, and they eventually just became shoes and I stopped caring.

It was only a few years later that I stopped caring about that sort of thing, but I think a lot of that had to do with the crowd of friends I made. Maybe if we had some more money and my parents bought me all that stuff and I ended up as one of the super popular kids, I might have ended up more consumerist. Instead, especially since I had to put my own money forward, I quickly realized how stupid it was, and I was content with the friends I made.

I’m not going to presume to say how you should handle this, I don’t even have kids myself nor do I know any more about your parenting philosophy. Rather, I think you just have to keep instilling values, stay consistent in how you manage them, and I think ultimately it will be the groups of friends he makes that will be the strongest factor. That’s about the age, at least for me, where I wasn’t just another one of the kids, but started to really take notice of the cliques, the popular kids, the smart kids, the outcasts, whatever. And, really, I think if he makes good friends and you stick to it, he’ll grow out of it.

He’s not brand-conscious. He’s peer-pressure conscious.
If the other kids wear a certain logo, he wants the same logo too. If the other kids were all wearing no-name ,torn jeans and tie-dye t-shirts, he would cut the brand-name logos off any new clothes you buy him.

Why worry about it? It’s a natural part of life to want to fit in with the group. There’s no reason to try to force him to be different. He’ll develop his own personality as he grows older.
He’ll gradually come to learn that some people are shallow-minded and only care what logo you wear. But other people are more like the best role-models he knows–mommy and daddy. And those are the people he’ll choose to be friends with.
People who , like you and your wife, offer him serious conversation and interesting experiences --which he discovers on his own to be much more important than logos on clothes.

Buy him a few clothes with logos. And let him save his own money to buy a few more. But give him time to decide to follow your personal example.

Particularly if the other kids are telling him he wants the same logo too.

You tell him that as his parent, part of his job is to teach him the meaning of value. That means not spending outsize amounts of money for no reason, or for bad reasons.

When my family takes trips, we allow each kid to get a souvenir, but insist on veto power over the item, so they understand what’s worth paying money for, and what’s not. They’re pretty good about accepting our explanations, even when they “really, really” wanted some stupid piece of junk.

This. Seriously, don’t push him to be an anti-consumerist. He wants to be like his friends.

And just wait until he hits high school and you think he looks like a hobo. (My parents were thrilled with my high school punk shopping habits of ‘thrift shop and dye everything black black black’).

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to tell him if he wants it, he needs to save up the money and buy it himself.

If it’s HIS money, he may find he’s not interested in the sweatshirt as much. That’s also a valuable lesson…just because you can afford something doesn’t mean you have to buy it.

Yes, this was me in the 80s. Jeans full of holes, and a denim jacket that was falling to pieces. I wore them every day. My father was mortified.

Yep. I agree. Part of learning value is making mistakes and blowing your money on something stupid, or not worth the money. Better for him to learn now when we’re only talking about the cost of a sweatshirt.

Rather than explain to him, I’d be tempted to go all Socratic on his ass. (“Why is it cool to have a Puma logo on your sweatshirt?” etc.) But I don’t know whether or not that would work.

Or just read him Dr. Seuss’s story “The Sneeches,” replacing “stars” with “Puma logos.”

Yes, this is the lesson I’d want a kid to learn more than anything else. The abilities to work, save, budget and prioritize are essential to life, far more important than teaching him to be anti-consumerist. If someone is smart about shopping, sales, coupons, etc. you can often get the premium product at a comparable price. 4th grade is not too young to be making those kinds of choices about clothes.

I don’t have kids of my own, but I do hear anecdotal stories from a lot of parents who say that kids change their priorities very quickly when they have to be responsible for the money. My employee’s daughters complained about getting a lot of used clothes at second-hand stores until one year when she said “You get $100 to spend on clothes this weekend.” The girls looked around the high-end department store and pretty quickly realized they’d rather get three times as many items at the thrift store. But, notably, they did mix and match - the things they really wanted to be new and brand name they got, and they filled in the rest of the wardrobe from the thrift store.


My mom wasn’t a huge fan, especially since I wasn’t the tidiest at using the washing machine to dye clothes black. But she handled it pretty well and even nicknamed my friends “The Crows”.

I did still want one of those horrible then-in-style dresses for homecoming. :smack:

Perfect! I’d quite forgotten about that tale.

Cardigan, I think y’all are doing a great job, mostly by setting an example and actually explaining reasons to your kiddo. Every kid does kinda go thru the ‘EVERYONE!!!’ has this/does this phase, but as others up thread have said, you tend to grow out of it to an extent. And, often, making a kid pay for stuff with his own money really changes their perspective.

One thought I had was about thrift/consignment shopping. You can find brand name stuff there (I’m a pretty diehard thrift store shopper and my dad has a side ebay income that he does for a hobby.) You might show him that he can get two! puma sweatshirts for the price of one. (Also great for the whole reduce/reuse/recycle.)
And I was thinking, as part of that, I assume that he’s still growing? You can explain that your clothes won’t even fit soon, so why spend extra money on them now?

Keep up the good work!

I don’t have kids, so I can’t give the OP advice on how to raise them.

But I was a kid and have some experience with this very issue. So here’s how I saw it from the kid’s perspective.

I grew up in the 80s and moved from my mom’s house to my dad’s about 1980. My stepmom had five kids who were all about 10-ish years older than I. When I hit middle school, everyone who wasn’t getting beaten up on the daily wore Jordache jeans, the one and only Nike (I think there was only a blue stripe at first, then they came out with the red stripe later), and Izod polo shirts. That was it: standard de rigeur uniform for middle school and high school kids at the time.

I begged and begged and begged and begged and begged and begged for just one pair of Jordache jeans (easily twice the price of Levi’s or non-designer jeans), buuuuut nope. In fact, my stepmom told me I could save up my money (I was 12) and in the meantime, there were some old jeans in storage of my older stepsisters’ that I could wear if I needed jeans. Reminding you that those sisters were a minimum of 10 years older than me, that meant I was being offered low-waisted bellbottoms to wear instead of the trendy high-waisted cropped ankle jean that was the rage at the time.

So I got beat up on the daily. In gym class, in choir, on the walk on the way home. Constant abuse.

Well, I was 12, and saving up babysitting money (there was no allowance and I did not ever receive money for birthdays or Christmas) to $50 for a pair of jeans at $1 an hour was going to take about 50 hours of babysitting, which, at twelve, was going to take me a few months. (When I was 16, I could have come up with $50 within a week.) So I skipped lunch every day and ate one meal a day, and that still took me 50 days to save up enough, which is like, a third of the school year. Eventually, I got in trouble for skipping lunch – because my dad knew I never ate breakfast – but I’m here to testify that being grounded for a week for not eating was completely and totally worth having the “right” jeans to wear to school. That is fucked up on so many levels, I can’t even.

Note the peer pressure to fit in was not quite as harsh on my older sister who was in high school.

I learned how to sew because I learned (quickly) how to peg the seams on those bellbottoms so at least the leg part was closer to in-style.

Finally, my best friend told me she had a pair that “didn’t fit right” so she gave them to me (with her mom’s permission). I suspect that she just got her mom to buy her another pair just like those so I could have that one pair of jeans that would keep me from getting the beat down every day on our walk home from school. (Which was like one mile, through crack-infested neighborhoods, with zero adults paying any attention at all.)

So, things are different now. And being bullied only because my clothes weren’t in style was only restricted to middle school. By the time I got to high school, Levi 501s were acceptable and affordable so were also stepmother-approved. I could get away with knock off polos and shoes other than Nikes, but the jeans you wore mattered, but only until high school and then everyone went back to not giving a damn. And there was less “pick on the poor kid” in high school, mostly because the poor kids were all banded together in the vocational classes and ran in packs.

Your kids may not be experiencing bullying to that same degree and it’s possible they can get away with knock off clothing that’s close. But my suggestion would be to ravage the used clothing stores and places like Goodwill for name-brand stuff that’s a little worn, but way cheaper, and at least has the right label. That and I do advocate asking the kid to save up his own money for a thing he wants, but only if that kid has a revenue stream, like an allowance or birthday money or a paper route or something.

My primary message is that the laser focus on clothing labels doesn’t last that long socially speaking. And if I had a kid and it was my kid, I’d be inclined to A) Try to find used clothing for cheap and B) Try to get the kid suited up according to the school “uniform,” even if that uniform happens to be a designer shoe or whatever.

Now my sister and I had/have self-esteem issues from a whole laundry list of other things, but my parents’ hard-ass stance on this did not help matters. My dad later expressed regret to my sister that he didn’t try to compromise a little bit on the designer clothing thing, seeing as how it was only important to us for a couple years, but the self-esteem damage lasted decades.

As a parent, you have an obligation to clothe your kid, so it’s not fair to make him pay for the entire Puma sweatshirt. If that’s what he wants, then give him the cash you would have paid for the sweatshirt of your choice, and let him put up just the extra cash required to get the Puma item instead. Presto: you’ve met your obligation to put a shirt on your kid’s back, and he’s learned that fitting in comes with a price. The earlier you can ingrain that lesson into his brain, the less likely he is to go bankrupt trying to buy name brand shit as an adult.

Alternative: give it to him for Christmas or for his birthday; maybe he’ll have a bit more reverence for it and treat it like one of his “nice” shirts that’s not just an ordinary item in his wardrobe.

I, too, remember 4th/5th grade being high tide for having the “right” brands, fads, trends, etc. In fact it was *so *intense that I still remember each object that “everyone” had, pretty much in the order they appeared: Air Jordans, Hypercolor shirts, Koosh balls, slap bracelets, Sperry top siders, color block chambray shirts, brushed silk shirts. (… can you tell me my precise age, now?)

That too passed, pretty much without interference from my parents. By eighth grade the desire to run with the crowd was 100% gone.

Yep, you’re in your mid-40s. :smiley:

Nice post Dogz. Glad you survived.

Thanks. Still don’t eat breakfast though.