washingtonpost.com  > Live Discussions > Business > Color of Money
Color of Money

Color of Money Book Club

Personal Finance

Michelle Singletary and Juliet Schor
Washington Post Business Columnist and Guest Author
Wednesday, December 1, 2004; 1:00 PM

Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary and Juliet B. Schor, author of "Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture," offer advice and answer your questions.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

_____Michelle's Column_____
The Color of Money

_____________

Michelle Singletary: Hello everyone. I'm so very thrilled to have Professor Schor online live with me today. I love her book and think the discussion it could start nationwide is so key to helping keep our children from the Madison Ave. monsters :)

Well let's get started.

_______________________

Olney, Md.: Ms. Schor, do you have a ReplayTV or TiVo? I bought a ReplayTV...well, mostly because I'm a gadget freak, but I also can't imagine letting my daughter sit mindlessly through commercials that are more misleading and pushy than campaign ads. Since we started using our ReplayTVs almost a year ago, we rarely see more than a second or two of any commercials...unless we see an ad for a movie or something else that manages to catch our interest and is one of the very few that isn't automatically skipped over.

Anyway, I'm also moving our movies on DVD to my computer, because I find that once I put in a Disney movie, it takes about 30 seconds and over a dozen button presses to start the movie and skip over all the other...um, stuff, that they cram in there. Now that I've copied over just the movies, I can play them from any TV instantly, just starting with the actual movie.

Technology can be a great tool for the wise and wary consumer.

Juliet Schor: I don't have TiVo or anything like that. The reason is that I almost never watch television (except for baseball playoffs). My children don't watch either. We have a tv but I've raised my kids "tv free." They've never watched. Not PBS, not Nickelodeon, not Disney. My husband and I stopped watching too. It has been a godsend. We have so much more time. The kids don't ask for a million toys or gadgets. It has been the best parenting decision I've ever made. I know it sounds weird to some people, but believe me, it's a liberation!

_______________________

Winston-Salem, NC: Can you suggest the best way to use an allowance to motivate personal responsibility as well as develop good money habits. I do not want my children to expect pay for home responsibilities. I would like for that to be a part of being "family". However, I want to motivate them to earn and save money and feel that a weekly allownace can be useful in teaching some of those skills.

Michelle Singletary: You are right not to pay an allowance based on chores. But I think it's okay to give an allowance that can be used to meet certain money goals. I know that sounds like a big thing for little people but it works. If your family believes in chartiable giving or tithing then require that they use a portion of their allowance for that. If they want a new bike, them them that they will have to help you pay for it with a portion of their allowance. In other words use the allowance as a way to teach them about setting financial goals and living within their means (even if it's $4 a week).

_______________________

Fort Washington, Md.: How do you fight the advertisers for your kids? Don't give advertisers access!! That includes limiting DVDs and VHS tapes. If you watched Teletubbies as in what values did my child learn? Disobeying adults, breaking the rules and having fun versus Barney which was very compassionate, caring, and do-good. But it is all a numbers game to buy stuff. Shopping is not a form of entertainment.

Parents have been hoodwinked, bambozzled, tricked, fooled and had by advertisers. Our child asks for stuff. The answer is NO. We did buy some stuff and kept the original box. I swear if we use the packing tape and wash the dust off the toys, you would swear they came from toy store. Actually the toys are going to end up at a charity with the orginal box.

If you think young children have it bad; don't even try the world of teenagers. They want clothes and have clothes that declare a lifestyle they can't afford and neither can their parents. Who is running the house? The designer of the day?

How bad is the advertising and brainwashing? Think when was the last time you saw a car ad with the price of the car. Heck they only give the LEASING PRICE!!! Some folks will grow up never thinking you are suppose to own the dang car not rent one for 50 or 60 years. They started on our kids and now they are coming for us!!

We need a plan as good as their plan to circumvent the unaffordable commercialism and extravagance of the public and our children.

Juliet Schor: This is a great comment. I agree with so much of what you say. Many of today's toys aren't memorable for kids, and they're finished with them in short order. (Important point for the holidays coming up.) Try and get toys that have flexibility and will last for years. My daughter still plays with her wooden blocks sometimes--she and her friends build huge structures and they put their sports trophies in them. She's nine years old.

The teen world is a more intense, more insidious version of what's happening with "tweens" (the 8-12 year olds), because tweens are being marketed with the same messages and products that once were reserved for teens. It's part of why kids are growing up too fast.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Michelle,

Sorry, but I didn't get presents on christmas when I was kid...so I go overboard with mine. My wife hates it but she quiets down when she sees her gifts under the tree as well. They make a list and I normally buy everything on them.

Yes, it puts me in debt but I don't care. I want my family to be happy.

Juliet Schor: As parents we have to watch out not to compensate for what we missed out on by just doing what we wanted to (or for) our kids. My personal example: My mother's mother wouldn't take her to lessons after school. She craved that. So I got more lessons than you could count. At one point I took seven different kinds of lessons! It was nice of my mother to be willing, but she was doing it for her more than for me.

Going into debt to buy lots of presents for the holidays is something I'd be very wary of. Debt causes stress and lack of control. Can you try and find other ways to have memorable and fun holidays? Emphasize cooking, family rituals, doing community service, experiences rather than stuff? My organization, newdream.org, has a lot of resources on "simplifying the holidays." We're trying to reduce the stress, the debt, and the pressure, and to increase the meaning and the fun.

Michelle Singletary: And if I can add. How happy is your family really if all your spending puts the family finances in trouble? Remember nobody on their death bed said I wish my parents have bought be more barbies or trucks. What we really want from our family, friends and parents is love and my friend that is something you can't get in a mall.

_______________________

Springfield, Va.: I am amazed at how many parents these days have more money than brains. When I was a kid and went shopping with my mom, I would often plead, "Can I have this?" and my mom would always say, "No, we don't need it", or "No, we can't afford it", or just plain "NO".

Now I have two kids, and I'm going to teach them the same thing my parents taught me--don't buy anything you can't pay for outright, except a house and an education.

Remember parents, Just Say No!

Juliet Schor: It's a great message, and one we're hearing more of these days. But to help parents to follow that rule, it's good to know why it's so hard to do for some of us, and to understand the pressures parents are under to say yes. There's $15 billion of marketing and advertising that's directed at kids alone (not even including teens). A lot of it is called "nag factor" advertising--aimed at getting the child to nag the parent for the product. There are also a lot of ad dollars directed at mothers where the message is "It's okay to say yes. The junk food is really nutritional. Your kid needs the product to do well in school. Your child's social survival is dependent on having the product. You're guilty because you don't spend enough time with your child, so you should guy them this product." As parents, we need to be aware of the sophisticated ways in which marketers are keying into our fears, fantasies, anxities and desires, and using them to convince us to say yes.

_______________________

Richmond, VA: Ms. Singletary:
I read your articles religiously. Thanks for your wonderful, practical, and down to earth insights!;
Do you believe in rewarding kids, with money, for good report cards?

Michelle Singletary: Thank you so much. And nope. Please, I barely want to feed and clothe my kids :)

Seriously, there are some parents who pay for good grades and they swear it helps motivate their kids. Perhaps. But I think it sends the wrong message. They should get good grades because that is their JOB. And what if they decide they don't need or want the money? What then. I just think as parents we have to be careful about using money to motivate our kids.

_______________________

New Jersey: As an overindulged child who got all the toys she wanted but was so disappointed because they never were as fun as they looked when advertised on TV, I'm wondering how you can teach children to ignore the mammoth sales pitch Madison Avenue gives and focus on having less yet having more.

Plus, it seems many parents feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children and try to make up for it with things.

Thanks so much for addressing these important issues!;!;!;

Juliet Schor: I think it's harder today to teach the lesson that the toys don't deliver the promise because the ads are less overt in promising benefits that don't deliver than they were when today's adults were children. These days there are more ads which promise a feeling, a symbolic benefit--like being "COOL" than there were in the past, when ads focused on what the product DOES. Of course, for younger kids, there still are ordinary toy ads. The best way to teach is probably what one of the mothers I interviewed did--find an egregious ad and then march the kids down to the store to check it out. They can see for themselves that it doesn't measure up. That said, it's hard to teach kids that the ads "lie" in some deep sense. Part of what you have to do with them is limit their exposure to ads. My kids never asked for toys because they never saw toy ads on TV.

On the guilt issue, I think there's a lot of truth in this. My research shows it, and the marketers absoutely are keyed into mother's guilt as a major way to sell stuff. If you're feeling guilty, don't spend as a way to deal with it. That's not a healthy response. Either decide you have no reaosn to be guilty, and stop worrying about it. OR, if you do honestly think you need to be with your children more, and you can work it out financially, go for it. Spend the time with them that you want to. Don't let society make you feel guilty for not living up to an unreasonable mother ideal. And what about dad? Is he feeling guilty? Should he spend more time with the kids?

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: How do you get away with taking away the children's TV? This is a point of contention between my honey and me. We don't have kids yet (not for another few years) and I want to raise them without any tv, for various reasons including the commercials, but my husband thinks that's too draconian and that they'll see it at friends' houses anyway. Where is the compromise?

Juliet Schor: You're in a great position, because "taking away" is harder than never giving. We just never let our children watch tv. We have one tv. We put it on the third floor in an uncomfortable room. We only used it occasionally to watch movies. It just wasn't an issue. Of course, my husband and I never watched either. I used to be addicted to tv, so I know--it is addicting, and it doesn't provide much in the way of real benefits. Once we stopped, it was easy. We just never thought about it. Out of sight. Out of mind. Try to get your husband off the TV now, before you have a child. He may just love getting it out of his life. Mine did.

_______________________

Fort Washington, Maryland: Our child is okay right now. She wears a uniform to school so clothing isn't too much of an issue. She has a PlayStation with one game. She is like Michelle and will not buy another game with her OWN MONEY "because they cost too much!;!;". Teenage years are closing in on us. What tools do you recommend so we can combat the commericialism culture targeting tweens and teenagers? I can't imagine high school with children & parents believing the pressure and spending hundreds of dollars on purses, shoes, CARS, etc., to fit in.

Juliet Schor: I'm going through this myself with my two children, ages 9 and 13. We're just trying to keep things as they have been, and not give into the pressure that because they are "teens" we suddenly have to allow all sorts of things we didn't let them do earlier. (eg., instant messaging, videogames, etc.) We try to do a lot as a family, we encourage activities that haven't been as commercialized (like playing musical instruments). The kids got really into competitive scrabble, which we encouraged. We let them do grown-up things that don't involve consumerism, so they don't feel like we're baby-ing them. So far it's not all that different from what we've been doing....
One "tool" is when they say "all the other kids are doing it" we communicate with the other parents to see if it's true. We also talk to their friends' parents when we're uncomfortable about something. One key is to get them engaged with healthy activities, and to encourage friendships with the kids who aren't pushing the envelope on growing up fast.

Michelle Singletary: This is such good advice. My husband and I are doing just what Juliet Schor recommends. We even screen their friends and talk to their friends' parents about what we are trying to do. And if all else fails just say: My house, my rules. What are they going to do? They can't afford to live on their own.

_______________________

Rockville, MD: Do you think advertisers play on the fears of parents (these days) have that their children won't "like" them? My parents never had a problem telling me "no" even when I pleaded and cried and acted devastated. I hear so many parents saying they want to make their kids happy, but is it really that they want to be "cool parents" that all the kids talk about?

Juliet Schor: I KNOW the advertisers play on these fears. I wrote about it in my book--and I did research which shows that they are capable of driving a wedge between parents and kids, when parents let kids get too involved in consumer culture. But if you create a strong bond with your child, limit their media exposure, and provide a different kind of home life, the advertisers' tactics to create that wedge won't work.

There's another kind of guilt/fear that advertisers use which is to prey on the fact that parents are really worried about their kids being ostracized if they don't allow them to do certain things or buy certain products. Don't worry about it. I don't let my kids do so many things, and they are both really popular. Plenty of friends! Who wants the kinds of friends who will diss your kids if they don't have the right designer duds? Those friends will be a problem in the end. The advertisers are all into promoting the popular, alpha kids. They hire them, influence them, and manipulate them. We can see through that. We don't have to accept their social leadership. I try and teach my kids about these social dynamics.

Michelle Singletary: Right on. And you know my grandmother Big Mama used to say "I don't want you to have it better than I did." At first I thought she was a crazy old selfish woman. But now that I have my own kids I completely understand what she meant. She meant I want you to know what it's like to want stuff. I want you to know what it's like to work for and pay for what you want because when you do, you will find you don't really need it. She meant that as parents we shouldn't give our kids everything because that's a standard that can't be maintained. I am trying to be the best parent I can be and no amount of toys, clothes or gadgets is going to make my kids like me any better. It will just make me broke AND they will still need therapy and blame their mother. So I figure, I'll save my money, keep saying no and not die broke.

_______________________

Bethesda, Md.: From an early age, I learned that there is no shame in saying "we can't afford that now" or "sorry, I can't buy you (fill in the blank)." The key is for the parent not to feel guilty about making those decisions. On the other hand, it is good to be flexible. For example, we generally ban highly sugared cereals in my household, on both health reasons and also because they're usually linked to worthless toy tie-ins; however, each year during his birthday week, my sons are allowed to pick out the junkiest cereal they desire and eat it until the box is empty. Once finished, they know that it's pointless to beg for junk cereals until the next birthday.

Juliet Schor: Kids really do understand "we can't afford it." I think it's a lot easier than "we can afford it but we won't believe in it" although kids can also understand that. I haven't done much of what you suggest (allowing things we are opposed to on a limited basis). Part of the reason is that I worry about getting into endless negotiations about it. (Can't we do it at the half birthday? How about vacation week? etc.) But if it works for you, that's great. Doing certain things as rare treats can be effective. Here's another important point--every family works out these issues in their own way, and needs to. Every kid is different. Every family dynamic is different. There isn't a one size fits all.

_______________________

Rockville, MD: It's great to hear that your kids don't watch TV. Any suggestions for those parents who started with that intent, but think a Barney video is a godsend when they need 30 minutes to get dinner ready?

Michelle Singletary: Amen to that!

I completely understand and used to use TV to give me a break. But lately I'm seeing the results of this flashing babysitter and I don't like it one little bit. So I have begun to turn it off and just deal with the little tykes. It definitely takes more patience and a paperbag to yell in :)

Juliet Schor: I agree--try not to do it. One reason is that in the long run it backfires. One effect of raising my kids TV free was that they learned early on how to amuse themselves. It wasn't intentional on my part but the result was that when they got a little bit older (even 3 and 4), they could play on their own pretty well. It freed me up for hours. TV as a babysitter creates a dependency on an external force for amusement, because kids get too passive in their play. Force them early on to be happy on their own, and it'll yield benefits for many years.

_______________________

Rockville, Md.: Flabbergasted and fed up. Bordering on angry.
Those are the only words that can describe how I feel about parents who are buying their kids or allowing their kids to buy pricey clothes and contraptions.

I don't understand their justification for it, but it makes my job as a parent that much harder. When my son sees his friends with expensive video games or clothing, he gets into a got-to-have-it mode that means days, even weeks of nagging me for the same thing.

The more he nags, the more resolute I am that he won't get what he's asking for because I think he's seeking it for the wrong reasons.

He doesn't have and won't get a cell phone, an X-Box or whatever its competitive counterpart is, digital camera, PDA or any clothes that cost more than my monthly car payment. In fact, he's been a Target kid since birth and will continue to wear Target until college.

His computer is a three-year-old desktop that has a 2000 Microsoft Word for his school reports, an electronic encyclopedia and limited access to the Internet. Oh, and he gets three meals a day, great medical care, a private school education and trips to the beach in the summer.

We have one TV which has basic cable. The TV in his room gets only the channels 7, 9, 5 and 4...and 20 and 50 if it's not raining.
His only "job" is to come home with good grades.

My job is tough enough and I want to thank all those overly indulgent parents for making my job just a bit tougher to do.

What happens when their kids grow up and, for whatever reason, they can't get these items on their own? Or they place value on things and not on interpersonal relationships.
When reality sets in that these things don't grow on money trees, namely their parents....what a sadly rude awakening it will be.

Michelle Singletary: What happens when they grow up?

They go into debt.

_______________________

Charleston, SC: There have been numerous studies citing the bad effects of children watching television. Do you think parents will ever resume responsibility and take care of their children rather than plugging them in?

Juliet Schor: Good question. I believe TV watching is down a bit, although that's mainly because of more computer use. If I were to guess, I'd say the studies showing adverse impacts of TV on brain development and cognitive ability will be the most powerful with parents, who tend to worry a lot about brainpower and education. The more schools get this message out, the more powerful it will be. Teachers and school administrators who are online today--spread this word.

_______________________

Texas: Michelle,
I always enjoy your columns and chats. One comment about the paying-for-good-report-cards thing, though. I understand that it seems "wrong" somehow. But my parents, uncharacteristically for them, did it. And I still remember the little thrill of having not only a good report card but also a few dollars of my own to spend. (Back then, we were talking, I think, $1 per A.)

I think it provided me a little extra encouragement. And I am now an academic type in the humanities, so it definitely didn't make lead me to conclude that the only reason to learn is to make money.

Just one experience.

Michelle Singletary: Good point. Different strokes for different folks. And as you prove all of this parenting stuff doesn't come with one way of doing things. But I also bet your parents didn't overindulge you and that's why paying for grades didn't spoil you.

_______________________

Alexandria: While we were never "paid" for good grades, we were rewarded in other ways. For example, we could only get our fav sugary cereal if we had good grades or we were taken out for ice cream then. Or we were allowed to buy a candy bar. I just remember how excited I use to get about having a bowl of lucky charms. And we were not at all deprvied as kids. We had toys, bikes, but we spent most of our time outside running around like maniacs and those were some of the best times. But what I remember most? Not the grey and pink bike I got when I turned 10 but that there was never ever a day when I did not know without question that my parents loved me. I am 28 now and that is the best gift ever from them. And I still smile when I buy a box of Lucky Charms as a treat.

Juliet Schor: My experience was similar. My mother only let us have candy a couple of times a year and then only chocolate covered raisins. We'd have to run upstairs and brush our teeth right away. We also spent hours and hours outside. My children aren't allowed to have candy either. My son became a type I diabetic, so it turned out to have been serendipitous. We didn't have to take it away from him when he was diagnosed.

_______________________

Washington, DC: The latest New Yorker has a cartoon of a young, professional-looking father cradling his newborn. He says to his wife, "I'll looking forward to depriving him of the things I had too much of growing up." And the implication is that he is not going to be deprived of love and attention, but 'stuff'. Hilarious!;

Michelle Singletary: That is funny and profound!

_______________________

re: going into debt to make kids happy: There's nothing wrong with wanting to make your kids happy. However, have you noticed how long the kids are happy? It is awesome to see that joy on your kids' faces on the big day, but how long does it stay there? As long as it takes you to pay for the toys you bought? Do you know honestly how long it is taking you to pay for the toys you bought? What if you wrote them a card telling them all the special traits they have, how proud you are of them? Imagine how long they will hold and treasure that.

What about when college time rolls around? Still think they'll be happy when they find out there isn't as much in their college fund as there coulda been?

And finally, I bet their face would light up if they could eat ice cream and potato chips for every meal but I bet you don't do that to make them happy. Part of being a parent is saying no to things they really, really want because you know better.

Michelle Singletary: Preach, Preach!

P.S. I call this the "wow factor." As parents we crave to hear our kids say "wow" after we give them something. But the wom last but a moment.

_______________________

Arlington, VA: I have a question about teaching small children (our kids are preschoolers) the value of money. Both my spouse and I grew up in families in which we didn't want for essentials but money was tight. We all lived check-to-check. So, we both learned from observation (mom & dad doing the budgeting in front of us, clipping coupons, etc.) and hearing "no" a lot!;

But our kids have a much more privileged existence than we did, because we make so much money (educations paid off). We do say no, we don't have truckloads of toys (really we don't -- the guys who moved us recently volunteered that to us), and we intend to give them allowances when they are older. But it's the little things my kids won't see like we did. The house cleans itself because we have a weekly housekeeper, we get the lawn guy out regularly, people come to fix things, etc. It's just that we had to earn our way to where we are now, and that's what we want to teach our kids: they have earn and save to get ahead. (We get these services so that we can do more fun things with the kids -- go to playground, swim lessons, just play, read, whatever.)

I thought that this year I would take ds shopping where there's one of those angel trees, and we could make that a yearly tradition, picking out a gift for a person in need. What else can we do? When can I start giving my 4-year old an allowance? I think he's too young yet. How can I talk to him about money in terms he can understand? Is there a good book out there?

Juliet Schor: Trust your instincts and you'll do it right. Sounds like you already are. You can still clip coupons, or save pennies to teach those lessons about frugality. I agree that four is too young. We first gave an allowance in fourth. I also think that exposing kids to poverty (whether here in the states, or abroad) is a good way to teach them the value of money. If they know how poor people live, and how much every dollar counts for others, it can help to teach them the value of possessions and money. More face to face community work is better at teaching this lesson than giving money long distance.

_______________________

Powhatan, Va.: Thanks for taking our questions. I am beginning to think mutual funds are a bit over rated. When I read the return in the annual report, then do the math with my actually statement, the figures NEVER equal. The annual report may say my fund made 15%, but my actually return is often much less. Your insights? Comments?

Michelle Singletary: Fees baby, fees!

_______________________

Rockville, Md.: Was there some meeting or memo I missed? When did my generation decide not to be parents but to be friends to their kids? I mean, we all say, "When I grow up, I'm never going to say to my kids, 'Because I'm the mommy and I said so.'" and yet, we all grow up and realize that is EXACTLY the right thing to say.

Except this generation isn't saying that. Instead of using discipline, or "no," it's "have a new tv" or Ipod or whatever and please, please try to behave.

Is this just a metro phenomenon or does it happen in the heartland, too? (Where I like to think people still have common sense.)

Michelle Singletary: I think this is a nationwide problem. Somehow no became a naughty word. But ask my kids. I use it at the end of pratically every sentence. Heck, my oldest thought for awhile her name was no.

_______________________

Central Virginia: Dear Michelle and Juliet,

I had an interesting moment in the grocery store a few weeks ago. A very nice woman was wheeling her youngster down the cereal aisle, gently ignoring him while he whined for this or that item. She finally acceded to his repeated requests for a certain brand and put a box of the stuff into the cart, remarking to me that he sounded like he really wanted it.

The child was silent for about three seconds, gazing spellbound at the cereal. It worked!; He then burst into a strident, shrill yodeling for this, that, and the other items. What really struck me was the mixed exultation and desperation in the child's voice.

What in the world are we teaching our children with those advertisements??

Juliet Schor: Not a great lesson she taught. I shop at a store where they sell very little food that it advertised--it's a more health-food oriented place. The downside is that it's expensive. But we partly get around that by buying very little that's packaged or prepared. We buy more whole grains, often in bulk, and cook ourselves. (My kids have never been served packaged mac and cheese in our house.) They have great eating habits--tons of fruit and vegetables. Part of this I owe to our pediatrician, who gave us a great tip. When you start introducing food, don't give fruit until you've got vegetables well established. The fruit is so sweet, that it undermines the palate for vegetables and non-sweet items. (I'm sure the junk food producers know this...) We only gave banana when the kids were little--none of those pureed fruits. It has been fantastic. My kids eat the same food we eat. They eat so many vegetables and they love fruit now. It breaks my heart to see how American kids eat--so many as on "white" diets--all sugar and starch. Colorful foods are the ones they need--and not the food colorings of the junk food companies.
PS Here I'm really going off topic, but one of the things I've learned as I travel around the country speaking about my book, is that there are a growing number of parents who are finding that the attention and behavior problems of their children can be solved with diet, rather than medication.

_______________________

Vermont: A very interesting book that I looked at is called the Five Love Languages of Children. I think it has a bit of Christian religious content which does not fit with my background, but still. The book said there are 5 ways in which people can receive affection and they have different preferences. These ways are: time together, words of praise, acts of service, personal touch and gifts.

So gifts is there but it is just one thing. You can focus on the others. My girls (ages 10 and 6) really prefer time together. Their ultimate treat is to go out to tea with me. I know that I personally prefer acts of service-- for example, when my husband brings me a cup of tea-- that makes me feel more loved than anything he might buy me.

Juliet Schor: Thanks for your nice contribution. My family gave me a trip to "tea" for mother's day two years ago. It was one of the best gifts I ever got.

_______________________

Suitland, MD: Ms. Schor -
Great book. I recently graduated from a university in Washington and, having worked my way through college via scholarships and joining the military, I was always awestruck at how many of the students at private universities in Washington spend money. I agree with you that parental diligence plays an important role in combating the advertising industry; however, I think parents also need to place some sort of controls on the children - i.e. DON'T SPOIL THEM!; Too many kids are driving around in Mercedes, Audis, and BMWs and spending money as if the world is going to end by the end of this fiscal year; thus, playing right into the hands of marketers. I think parents (yes, even upper-class parents) need to emphasize hard work and responsbility; they need to stop giving their children more and more and start putting restrictions on how much of a "monthly allowance" they receive while at school - your thoughts? Thanks!;

Juliet Schor: Thanks for your contribution. It's great to hear it not just from old fogeys like me (almost 50!) but from young people like yourself. My dream right now is to get high school and college students to take up this message and deliver it to the younger ones.

_______________________

Manassas, Va.: First of all, thank you for writing your wonderful book. We've been trying to keep our 3-year-old as uncommercialized as possible. At a recent doctor visit the nurses were shocked when she didn't know who SpongeBob or Dora the Explorer were! I fear that as she enters the preschool years we won't be able to avoid it.

We've been looking into cohousing and think it's a good fit for allowing safe areas to play outdoors as well as having other friends nearby. It seems like those two elements-- community and a safe space for children-- are what is missing in our family's current suburban life. What do you think?

Juliet Schor: I love co-housing. We lived in an apartment complex that had some of the features you talk about--everyone had their own apartment, but there was a common greenspace and playgrounds. It was phenomenal. THe kids got autonomy because it was a safe place to be without adults. There was so much community in that complex. I highly recommend it.

By the way, we had a similar experience with our son. A relative gave him a 12 volume set of Sesame Street books (to teach reading). We read them a lot. We used to joke about what would happen when he found out there's a television show to go with the books.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Based upon what I've heard about your book, I am more aware about what is targeted at my children...thanks for writing it. My 9 yr old cringes every time she asks for something and I mention the phrase 'it's not in our budget'. I am trying to teach them good spending habits, however shouldn't there be an 'okay' list of which companies/organizations' marketing strategies we should 'succumb'to, such as Girl Scouts or other non-profits?

Juliet Schor: I've got all the examples I could find in my book of the "wholesome halo" organizations which are selling out--Girl Scouts, National PTA, etc. I don't know of an official resource which compiles this information. Keep an eye on commercialalert.org which exposes organizations as they buy into commercial culture.

_______________________

Astoria, N.Y.: Hi Michelle and Juliet -

I attended a public health seminar yesterday and the speaker said, "In the future, people will look back on us and say, why were they so baffled by childhood obesity when they ran 200,000 ads for junk food aimed at children per year?"

What can we do today to combat this, whether we are currently parents or not?

Juliet Schor: Get involved with Commercial Alert and other activist organizations that are working on this issue. (See my book for addresses, etc.) I spent yesterday afternoon on Capitol Hill talking to Senate Staffers at Harkin and Kennedy's offices--they're both trying to pass legislation. Give the White House an earful--they've been blocking effective reforms, because they take millions from the "obesity lobby." Contact the ad agencies like Saatchi and Saatchi and tell them that pushing junk food on kids is shameful.

_______________________

Bethesda, Md.: Good afternoon,
How would you recommend adult children of a "commercialized neighborhood" deal with lack of material wealth that could make them feel inadequate as adults?

We hear quite a bit about how to refrain from overindulging children, but what about the children who went through such materialism in the 80's (without much money in their own families), and while successful in life, still can not compare to others in terms of money (esp. in this area)?

Thanks for your advice!

Juliet Schor: There are lots of books which help people to find satisfaction from within, not from externals. THe self-help or spirituality sections of libraries or bookstores are a good place to start. Connect with religious/spiritual communities which emphasize this message. Come to my organization's website--newdream.org--and connect with us. We're trying to spread the message that less is more, and fun and happiness and meaning aren't about the label on the shirt. If you can find some therapy and can afford it, go for it, and help yourself to heal about this. Money is so taboo and complicated in our society, but there are lots of people out there who are trying to help us get through those complications and social neuroses.

Michelle Singletary: Hey sometimes the best way to deal with this issue is to talk about it. So many people equate their worth with their net worth and the stuff that they have. But every day is a new day to turn that around.

And on that note folks we have to go. I want to thank Professor Juliet Schor for joining me today. And if you haven't gotten her book, get it! It's a great read. As always thanks for joining me today. I'm sorry if we didn't get to your question but look for answers to those questions in my column and weekly electronic newsletter.

_______________________


© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive
Viewpoint: Paid Programming

Sponsored Discussion Archive
This forum offers sponsors a platform to discuss issues, new products, company information and other topics.

Read the Transcripts
Viewpoint: Paid Programming