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Say ‘no’ to your children – and they’ll benefit in the long term

Children and consumer culture - why your child will benefit from the word 'no'I was standing in a department store checkout queue recently, when my 7-year-old daughter started hounding me to buy whatever it was they put in the checkout queue to seduce kids into pester power territory.

“No” I say, simply.

She asks for the next “thing”.

“No” I repeat. “We’re not buying anything from these stands today.”

The woman in front of me, who had been listening to our conversation, turns around and asks with a resigned smile, “How do you do that?”.

I looked at her and said, “I just say ‘No”.

[OK, I wanted to say, “Well, DUH”, but we were in a public place and I didn’t want to start a fight].

The interaction got me thinking about the cult of giving our kids everything they want all the time and the reluctance of parents to say “No”.

Affluenza: it’s a real thing. The Macquarie Dictionary defines it as “the dissatisfaction that accompanies consumerism as a path to happiness”.

It starts in childhood. As parents we may be motivated to give our kids everything they ask for because:

  1. It’s easier to say yes than no;
  2. We’ve inherited that approach from our own parents;
  3. We dread the reaction of our kids to the word “No” (and fear others will judge us if our kids have a public dummy spit);
  4. We don’t want our kids to miss out or be bullied because they don’t have the latest iDevice; and/or
  5. We define our own success by our financial situation and believe it’s a status symbol for our kids to have cool stuff.

Ultimately, the buck stops with us as parents. Sure, brands encourage kids to flick out the pester power moves and wear us down so we buy, spend, CONSUME. Our materialistic, capitalist culture impounds the idea that giving kids all this stuff will make them happy. But ultimately we are in the power position to rise above it.

It’s not always easy to teach our kids the value of things in such a hedonistic culture. Sometimes it feels like we’re going against the grain, like other parents are judging us for our naysaying. And we are ensconced in an age where, like it or not, technology is practically a necessity to complete our education (and ultimately to do our adult work), rather than a “nice-to-have”. Pushback on our kids is HARD.

But pushback is necessary. I give my kids things they want occasionally; I’m not a hard-arse, but for our family it’s about balance. If our kids are targeted by others in the playground because they don’t know who Desmond Miles is (thanks Google), then that’s a separate issue. And the experience of my kids not getting what they want all the time is developing in them the most remarkable gift of childhood: resilience.

Happiness is never a guarantee but it’s not a magic ingredient in an Xbox either. I believe we give our kids the best chance of happiness by arming them with a sense of independence, of resilience and of self-worth.

It’s generally accepted that our brains are still developing well into our 20s. The danger of giving children everything they want with no limits in early childhood is that they are conditioned to believe that they don’t have to work for anything, ever. They grow up not understanding how the “real world” – the world outside the cosy microcosm of “ask and you shall receive” – works.

Children who get everything they want may grow up with a skewed sense of entitlement, believing that the world owes them something. Jessie O’Neil, a therapist and psychologist, surmises that in its worst form, affluenza can lead to low self-esteem, depression, frustration-management issues, and neuroses.

As well as the psychological effects on our own children, our reluctance to say no may have sociological knock-on effects, amplifying the great divide between the haves and have-nots.

Vaccinate your kids against affluenza, don’t give them a snotty consumerist handkerchief. Tell them “No”. It’s a word they need to hear.

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10 comments so far -

  1. Absolutely loved this article!
    My 4 kids have to hear “no” frequently but we always try to explain why – we don’t have money for it, I don’t think they need it, it’s a crappy quality item, etc etc. I got alot of raised eyebrows from the posh mums when I refused to buy an iPad for a 5y.o. or a smartphone for a teenager – it was unnecessary for them. It’s not that I’m a mean mummy all the time, I just want them to appreciate when they are given something.
    There have been 3 youth suicides in the last 2years in our district, and every single one was a kid who’d never had to face disappointment, (well meaning) parents had bought everything the kids hearts desired. They get to that massive upheaval of teenagehood without a clue of why the world doesn’t turn to the snap of their fingers.
    One trick I have learned when shopping with them is to let them choose one (small) treat item each at the start, and put it in the trolley. It is always the last thing unloaded, but if they play up or pester me, the treat goes back on the shelf and no argument (yes I’m the pest who leaves lollipops in the dogfood aisle!).
    Once they hit school and the demands start in earnest, these kids pay for what they want from pocketmoney (usually with a but of help from our pockets). We teach them to manage their money to get those things. Our older girls both started working at 13 in local shops and cafes, so yes they have macBooks and iPhones, but they paid for them and boy do they guard them, lol!

  2. I love this article because I tell my kids no!

    I often tell my kids life isn’t fair and you don’t always get what you want, so it is best you learn to deal with that now.

    My neighbours have raised greedy entitled children that only measure a persons worth on what they have not who they are.

    I want my kids to be connected to our environment and learn that possessions are a privieldge not a right.

    Great article!!!!

  3. Love this Kimberley! The word ‘no’ is a very healthy part of parenting and all children need to hear it from time to time. Well done you.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with this post!
    We’re always educating our eldest about how people are trying to sell us things to make money and that we should be happy with the things we have because other people don’t have anything. He’s five, he hears ‘no’ and he gets it. Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t go without but he’s very aware that he is in a fortunate position.
    As you say, the knock-on effects of entitlement and consumerism are vast – I see this often as a high school teacher and I despise it. ‘No’ is hard for parents and carers but we must persevere. Great post.

  5. Right with you on this one Kimberley! I have always had a strong stance on the NO, like you, I couldn’t give a rats if people stare, or think I’m mean. And it pays off, Felix is quite accepting of us saying no now, just have to hold it together a bit longer to get the 2 year old on board 😉

  6. Love this! It is so true. Kids do need to learn that they can’t have everything – life isn’t like that and I do think it is important to start early as it will be much harder to suddenly start saying ‘no’ to a teenager, who is used to getting everything they ask!

    Also I hate those tantrum tunnels at shopping centres!!

    • Thanks Rebecca! Oh the Tantrum Tunnels (I’ve never heard that term—I’m nicking it though!) are the worst. If my kids have a tantrum there I say to them in a really nonchalant voice, “You can have as big a tantrum as you want, you’re NOT getting that”. I actually don’t care whether people stare, and now when they ask for something and I say “No” they rarely, if ever have a tantrum as they have been conditioned into knowing that that is what I will say if they do have one.

      Thanks for commenting (and good luck with those teenage years!)! Kim



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