This week our roundtable of Wakefield moms takes up the topic of how to guide children through a world itching to make them care about brands (like that little alligator on the shirt.)
I hate to shop, and I have enough trouble keeping up with all the things I need to buy for my kids, so there is little danger of me going overboard and getting them things that they just want. Lucky for me, my kids don’t ask for much and have not been lured into the trendy world of designer boots and clothing stores that look like nightclubs. If only I had been as wise at their age …
When I was in sixth grade, I transferred from public school to a small, private school with a strict dress code. I went from being a sloppy, comfy, wear-whatever-is-clean kid to a kid who had none of the right clothes. At my new school, what I was wearing was suddenly VERY important. Not only was it important to follow the rules of dress that the school enforced, but I was the new girl and I wanted to fit in, so of course, I wanted to dress like everyone else.
I wanted the shirts with the little alligators (or better yet, the little polo players) but definitely not the ones with the little foxes. I wanted real DockSiders. Most of all, I wanted a LeSportSac purse with lots of zipper pockets and a long shoulder strap. Not just any old nylon, zipper-pockety purse, it had to say “LeSportSac” all over it. In retrospect, the purse was really ugly and I don’t know why I wanted it so much. In the end, I never got it because my mother thought it was stupid for an eleven-year-old to have an expensive, ugly, purse just because everybody else had one. She was right. By seventh grade, I learned that it was more important to have my own style than to worry about a particular brand of clothing.
So far, my kids have been kind enough to just want to wear cute clothes that fit and not care what the label says. This is awesome for me because I already feel like I am spending a fortune on clothes that they seem to outgrow before I can cut off the pricetags. I do most of my shopping at cheapo emporiums like Target and Old Navy. I haven’t yet had to venture inside an Abercrombie and Fitch. My daughters have actually commented on how it makes no sense to buy expensive, high-end clothes or shoes for a kid since they will grow out of them so fast. I know the day may come when they ask for designer boots or $100 jeans. Hopefully it will be because they are following their own sense of style instead of following the crowd. And hopefully it will be when they have spending money of their own.
Over-giving is in the eye of the beholder. Compared to some, I’m sure I seem like Mrs. Jones herself. Our kids have every material thing they need and then some. But compared to others (and you can ask my nine-year-old for confirmation), my kids are rather deprived. I was recently surprised to learn that my daughter is the only student at her elementary school who does not have an iPod touch. I told her this item is off the table at least until she turns ten. It’s not that I’m against her owning one, it’s just that I don’t care for her sense of entitlement, and I figure that this buys Santa one more Christmas before he has to choose between American Girl and the Apple store.
I don’t really think we try to “keep up with the Joneses.” It is true that my children have accumulated a vast collection of toys, but much of this can be chalked up to generous grandparents, our compilation of hand-me-downs, and the fact that we never seem to purge. My husband and I are not concerned with status objects; we drive unexciting but reliable vehicles, we live within our means, and we don’t pay much attention to fashion trends. Heck, there are days when we are barely presentable. When it comes to expendable income, we prefer to spend it on experiences, rather than objects. Outfits will be outgrown and electronic devices fail, but memories of a beach vacation cannot be taken away.
As our children grow older, though, they will become increasingly vulnerable to the influences of their friends and the media, and consequently pressure us to spend on the latest styles and name brands. Most parents can relate, perhaps remembering a name-brand item we coveted as children but were denied by our own unfair parents. My girlfriend still remembers feeling like the only child on the playground without Nike sneakers. Another friend’s mother sewed tiny alligators onto his non-Izod shirts in order to preppify them. I understand how this mother felt: she wanted her son to feel like he belonged and to be proud of his appearance, all while respecting her clothing budget.
I never learned if the homemade alligator shirt was deemed an acceptable substitute, but I hope that my children are able to make similar compromises when choosing their own clothing and toys. It isn’t easy to tell an eight-year-old that “Those aren’t your real friends” if she is being teased for not wearing Justice brand (I’ll resist making a pun here). And there will be plenty of times I allow my children to select the “in” apparel, or splurge for that cool device. However, even if money were no object, we would always set limits on superfluous spending. Our kids need to know that their possessions are theirs only by dint of the hard work of their parents. One day this responsibility will fall to them, so this appreciation is crucial. Of no less importance is their burgeoning individuality. Rather than feeling compelled to follow the crowd, we want them to develop styles that are uniquely their own.