The contemporary business environment is becoming very competitive, thanks to globalization and technological advancement. The increased competition is now forcing organizations to adopt powerful strategies in order to gain competitive advantage. It is for this reason that consumerism has gained popularity, with business enterprises investing heavily in promotion of their products in order to influence purchasing behaviour of target markets.
Indeed, the consumer market seems to be the biggest driver of economic development in most countries, as it continues to grow as the economy and population grow. Therefore, marketing becomes an integral function in organizations, where different organizations use persuasive and manipulative techniques and strategies to convince or change perceptions of consumers to purchase their products and services (Schor, 2004).
Nowadays, most organizations are focusing on children as a niche market with potentially sustainable growth and profitability. Although this may be a move in the right direction for businesses and society in terms of commercial empowerment, there is a dark side, especially in relation to social and health wellbeing of children (Palmer, 2010). This paper will critically discuss the effect of consumerism on children aged 7-11 years.
In the past generations, parents dictated children’s consumer behaviour by purchasing things (toys, sweets, clothes among other children stuff) that they felt their children needed or deserved to have. This was mainly based on necessity and affection, but there was no significant influence from outside to do so.
However, social changes in recent years have allowed children to have a commanding influence on their consumption patterns, thanks to ever-increasing advertisements and pressure from peers (Evans & Chandler, 2006). Today, many organizations are advertising their products directly to children with the knowledge that children have become more empowered and their psychological faculties can easily be manipulated or persuaded to like the products offered (Hulbert, 2004).
Indeed, every organization will target a market that would be positively responsive to its products. According to Schor (2004), children are nowadays being used as the conduit for marketing products to parents, especially due to their passionate consumption behaviour, brand loyalty, and tendency to learn fast. Generally, marketers focus on children based on three key roles they play as consumers including, controlling a big niche market, influencing family purchasing behaviour and brand loyalty.
However, several other factors have contributed to increased consumerism and marketing being directed to children. Children at the age of 7 to 11 have their own purchasing power due to pocket money given to them by their parents; however, they do not have mental capacity to make informed decision about wants and needs (Hill, 2011).
In addition, peer pressure tends to be setting in during this age, thus influencing children to purchase things that will make them compete with their peers. Moreover, families are trying to alleviate their children from threats of stigmatization and social identity by purchasing things to their children that will make them socially compatible with other children (Hamilton, 2011).
Indeed, it is worth noting that modern parents have compromised their control on children’s purchasing influence (Herbst, 2005) by yielding easily to children’s pestering and giving out money (or items) to them out of guilt for not spending enough time with them due to professional engagements.
Consumerism culture has adverse repercussions in children, especially in their social development. Importantly, since children do not have the capacity to make informed decisions, they are vulnerable to manipulation (Roche, 2009). In recent years, advertisement efforts by organizations have gone a notch higher to segment children market into age groups in order to capture more attention.
Importantly, children at the age of 7-11 years are beginning to identify their true gender and tend to associate themselves with popular culture; so they will demand products that make them look cool, in reference to advertisements. Here, peer pressure plays a big role as children try to compete against each other in terms of possession and coolness (Lüsted, 2010).
Indeed, children construct their identity by having a large collection of brands (Archer, Hollingworth, and Halsall, 2007). Moreover, children can easily identify the most endearing brands and labels, and they can skillfully use their little consumer knowledge to acquire these things (Pilcher, 2011). Indeed, it becomes very easy for children to participate in impulse purchases due to the amount of pocket money given to them by parents and their ability to influence parents to purchase for them.
Indeed, Buckingham (2013) claims that children would influence parents and the society to accept something due to emotional connection that exists between them and the society would also respond quickly if something is harmful to the children.
The social platform set by the contemporary marketers is eroding children’s values as they try to define their true self, because of bombarding them with so many products, which make them believe happiness is found from accumulation of possessions.
Indeed, this is becoming immoral, as it is not only interfering with their psychological health, but also their personal growth and development, especially because they are denied important tools (such as social, spiritual and intellectual) to respond appropriately to different situations (Schor, 2004).
Consumerism is also interfering with the health of children; no wonder there are increased cases of child obesity and depression (Dittmann, 2004). Nowadays, parents prefer to buy ready or easy-to-cook food from fast food shops or retail shops due to lack of time or boredom to prepare healthy food as they used to do before.
Importantly, marketers are taking this advantage to promote fatty, sugary and fast foods to children with the confidence of huge sales, the result of which is increasing cases of obese children due to consumption of these foods usually marketed as fun and cool (Gorman, 2008). Moreover, cases of drug abuse among children have increased due to the advertisements aired during children shows as well as sponsorship of children concerts and events by tobacco or alcohol companies (Schor, 2004).
The excess reliance on toys, especially play stations and computer games by children is eroding the social and cognitive development aspect in children. Unlike in the past where children used to play with their neighbor’s children, modern children have their play stations and television as their best friends (Piachaud, 2007). Therefore, children are focusing more on their materialist possessions in expense of family and friendship.
Moreover, some video games are training children to be violent instead of morally upright individuals, and this may justify the recent cases of violence and shooting in schools, especially in the US. Unsurprisingly, cases of mental disorder and depression have increased due to exposure to advertisements that have adverse psychological effect on children.
Protection of this future generation is of paramount importance, and it should be a concerted effort by all stakeholders. Primarily, there needs to be regulations on advertisements in order to prevent children from exposure to excess material that may alter their self-perceptions or behaviour. Indeed, regulations have worked in several countries that have limited or eliminated commercials during children’s programming and events, including Greece, Norway, Italy, and Austria among others (Hawkes, 2004, p.19).
Another remedy lies with the parents who must nurture their children to be morally upright people. Parents should train their children about money management and consumer behaviour, as well as control the amount they give to children as pocket money.
They should know that children of this age have some knowledge about what money is, they would tend to imitate their parents’ spending habits (Pfund, 2011), and they are vulnerable to peer pressure; therefore, guidance is important. Parents would also be in a better position to control their children’s exposure to harmful advertisements that influence their consumption behaviors (Palmer & Young, 2003).
Finally, the society plays a big role in protecting its members from harmful effects. Primarily, children need a clean and safe environment to grow and develop, thus any advertisements that tend to be manipulative or directed to children must be thoroughly regulated.
As seen above, corporations target children because they wield a lot of power in influencing consumption in families and they tend to be sustainable target market due to their brand loyalty. However, they become victims to social ineffectiveness, lifestyle illnesses, and mental disorders. Therefore, all stakeholders should unite and create an atmosphere that inhibits consumerism from destroying these innocent consumers.
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