Bankrupt at Age Twenty-Five

  King Edward VIII of England quipped, "The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children." That was almost one hundred years ago, but it certainly applies to today's culture. Nowhere is it truer than in spending patterns. Many parents these days try to overcome emotional bankruptcy with stuff. On Mars Hill Audio, Ken Myers quoted one marketing researcher who described it as "guilt money": Parents say, "Here's the credit card. Why don't you go online and buy something because I can't spend time with you." The results? In 2002 alone, teens spent $100 billion. On top of that, they got their parents to spend and additional $50 billion on them. Over the past couple of days, we've been addressing how the alcohol industry targets kids and how popular movies send the message that having material goods is the ultimate virtue. No wonder advertisements skew young. That's where the money is. Marketers know it. And the results are disastrous. In her book Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers Alissa Quart writes that "those under twenty-five are now the fastest-growing group filing for bankruptcy." Nevertheless, "financial-services companies now create teenage- oriented credit and cash cards." There is even a debit card for kids that parents can fund through an advance from their own credit cards. And marketers take advantage of this cash-rich audience. Teen magazines now appeal to "tweens," those between the ages of 10 and 14. And Cartoon Network airs commercials for MTV, a music channel for older teens and adults, during cartoons for 7- to 11-year-olds. In Branded, Quart documents how marketers specifically target kids, tweens, and teens -- even at their schools through "sponsored" field trips and school events, like "Coke Day." Marketers "acknowledge they have an easier time reaching teens because of the teens' increasingly bleak and atrophied familial relationships," writes Quart. "With parents out of the house, the social force of school and that world's currency -- the in group's favorite commodities -- now has a greater importance to teens than ever before." She goes on to say, "Teenagers have come to feel that consumer goods are their friends -- and that the companies selling products to them are trusted allies. After all, they inquire after the kids' opinions with all the solicitude of an ideal parent." We do our kids a terrible disservice when we teach them to fill their emotional needs with material goods and when we don't teach them how to just say "no." Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners, extols the authoritarianism of a parent saying "because I say so." Responding to parents who question expressing their opinion to their children, she wondered "how the non-judgmentalists expect their children to develop judgment without having observed the process." Well said, Miss Manners. Christian parents and kids need to stand out from the rest of the culture. Call us here at BreakPoint (1-877-322-5527). We want to send you some information on how you can protect your kids -- not only to teach them to discern marketers' intentions, but to teach them how to say "no" themselves, so they don't become bankrupt before starting a career. This commentary first aired on November 18, 2003. For further reading and information: Alissa Quart, Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers (Perseus, 2003). BreakPoint Commentary No. 031128, "Image Is Everything: Losing Identity at the Shopping Mall." (Free registration required.) BreakPoint Commentary No. 040810, "Beyond the Music (Video): MTV's Cultural Impact." "Branded for Life: Catching 'em young," The Star (Africa), 13 November 2003. Jessica Johnson, "The nerds are all right," Globe and Mail (Toronto), 3 May 2003. G. Beato, "Sold Out," Washington Post, 26 January 2003, BW04. Judith Martin, "The Battle of All Mothers," Washington Post, 11 May 2003, D02. (Archived article; costs $2.95 to retrieve.) Caroline E. Mayer, "A Growing Marketing Strategy: Get 'Em While They're Young," Washington Post, 3 June 2003, A01. The "Marketing and Consumerism" page of the Media Awareness Network includes links to resources for parents to teach children and teens about marketing and advertising. The May/June 2003 Mars Hill Audio Journal includes an interview with Alissa Quart. Call 1-877-3-CALLBP to receive the fact sheet "How to Keep Your Kids Unbranded," which includes facts and tips to help your kids become market savvy. Kay S. Hymowitz, "Tweens: Ten Going on Sixteen," City Journal, Autumn 1998. Sarah E. Hinlicky, "Me and My Mammon," Boundless, 1 February 2001.


Chuck Colson


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