One of our foundational insights in sociology is that our lived realities are constructed socially. We become human through a social process, and our understanding of the world is forever formed by these social experiences (Tepperman, Albanese & Curtis, 2014, p. 114). In this paper, I argue that while consumerism predicts and ensures the growth of an economy, the commercialization of products marketed to children should enhance its regulations to better remedy our nations.
In the first part of this paper I will explain how the output of marketing that is used on children is creating a conformed, consumer based generation, and to follow, I will explain how diverging from social expectations it is affecting children’s mental health. Finally the essay will conclude with a discussion and a summarization of why the commercialization of our generations are not leaving ample faith for the future.
The dominating narrative of consumerism, “you are what you consume,” plays a new and twisting role in the commodification of youth (Hill, 2011, as cited in Turner, 2015). Young people are enticed into consumption through mediated images and on the basis of notions of empowerment and individualism. Beginning at an early age, the relentless bombardment of mediated messages defines the self-according to its capacity to consume (Hill, 2011, as cited in Turner, 2015). From the beginning generations are raised in a society thriving on consumerism that encourages the concept of conformity.
Not soon after an infant is born, they are wrapped up in a gender sexualized blanket and toque and enticed with age appropriate toys and brand name clothes. The exhausted parents find salvation when their child becomes distracted by the colorful moving shapes on a screen and consequently introduce this daily distraction as a practice in to their child’s way of life. From television shows created to sell toys, to advertising in schools and on school buses, to the Girl Intelligence Agency, very little is free of marketing these days (Kanieski, 2010).
The effects of child based commercialization does not become as prevalent until the child reaches school. In my time, a child would be able to escape the need to drastically conform until around the sixth grade; after that you are expected to wear certain clothing brands, have certain accessories, and look a certain way. In today’s children, you will find second graders wearing the Guess brand shirts and jeans, accompanied by Ugg boots, with the latest advertised toy hanging out of their neon backpacks.
Those who choose to wear something different consciously feel the need to conform to the society that is their school in order to avoid bullying. Regardless of home environments, children are inevitably victims to commercialization for a mandatory twelve years of their lives, which ironically is theorized by Erik Erickson to coincide with the development stage of Industry vs. Inferiority: It is at this stage that the child’s peer group will gain greater significance and will become a major source of the child’s self-esteem.
The child now feels the need to win approval by demonstrating specific competencies that are valued by society, and begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments[…]If the child cannot develop the specific skill they feel society is demanding (e. g. being athletic) then they may develop a sense of inferiority (McLeod, 2013) With children addressed as adult consumers, the boundaries of what it means to be “youth” in today’s market culture shift dramatically, contributing to what Hayward (2012) calls life stage dissolution (As cited in Turner, 2015).
In addition to youth justice policies and the school, the hyper-materialism of today’s neoliberal world also plays a significant role in transforming the economic, social, and political context in which young people live (Muncie, 2005, as cited in Turner, 2015). If we are raising todays youths in a society where the need to conform to materialism is more important than the need to be happy and successful. We are purposefully teaching children to not be individualized.
Unbeknownst to a majority of marketers, it is the people who chose not to conform and to express their individuality that created the economy we thrive on today. Defining one’s self in this manner requires an endless consumption process that is far from stable (Hill, 2011, as cited by Turner, 2015). Regardless of who we are, everybody has become a victim to bullying. In today’s preteen culture, bullying is centered on those who are different; more specifically, those who do not act, dress, or appear similar to the standard image of commercialized beauty.
Bullying is often quite traumatic and will affect behaviors, energy, and health to name a few. In a classic study of suicide, Emile Durkheim suggested that suicide rates change because the crucial variable might be social control that forces people to take others into account and discourages behaviors that are excessively individualistic (Tepperman, Albanese & Curtis, 2014, p. 99). Consumerism causes serious physical, emotional, and social deficits, and it erodes the very foundations of childhood.
In particular, as children become more and more defined by their spending abilities, desires of consumption transform into a set of emotional needs all children are thought to have (Linn, 2004, as cited by Turner, 2015). The flock of children from various generations that we are searching for to lead within the next decade are fragile, mentally ill societal robots, not leaders. A parent’s job is to care for their child, especially when they are sick; they are not realizing that by encouraging and allowing consumerism to drive a child’s happiness is causing an epidemic of depression and possible retaliation.
A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied. (Effects of Bullying, n. d) We have defined deviance as ways of thinking, acting, and being that are subject to social control—in other words, as kinds of conditions and kinds of people that are viewed by most of society as wrong (Tepperman, Albanese & Curtis, 2014, p. 97). Teens who change their style to something frowned upon are presumed deviant by strangers, peers, and parents.
The commercialized attack on children’s individualism is impacting the structural integrity of what we expect from our economy in twenty years. Children are silently suffering with the goal of trying to be like everybody else because there is not enough advertising encouraging them to stay true to themselves. Since they were born, I have watched my now five and seven year old brothers become victims to consumerism. Regardless of the fact that my parents have raised them without the impact of live television, they will still come home after school and beg for the newest toy.
This pattern has repeated itself and there is a bookshelf dedicated to all the toys that they no longer care for because they are not “in”. I am thankful enough to be a part of a generation that was not born with the need to conform, and, because of this, I was able to realize before graduating high school that the time and money I had spent trying to look and feel like the rest of my society was wasteful. Unfortunately, I fear for my brothers and their mental health, because the signs of the depression I now suffer from due to negative impacts of school are becoming prevalent in them.
The suicides of teenagers and devastating school shootings are no longer enough to influence changes within our government, and the pull that society has will never be strong enough because too many people are fearful of standing out. In this paper, I examined the factors that supported my argument that while consumerism predicts and ensures the growth of an economy, the commercialization of products marketed to children should enhance its regulations to better remedy our nations.
The commercialization of everything relevant to childhood is drastically deteriorating the image of the people we want to run our societies. In order to salvage what we have left of the innocence of children, the media needs to encourage individuality rather than conformity through consumerism, because today we all want the newest IPhone, but tomorrow there will not be an economy strong enough to produce them.