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Consumerism And Children: Impacts And Implications

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By Ashmita Sengupta:

India is a nation obsessed with children. In every part, every nook and corner of this country, parents are sacrificing all in the hope that their children lead better and more comfortable lives. But how much comfortable is too comfortable, remains an open ended question.

Ever since the economic reforms of 1991, foreign investments have behaved like fairy dust to our country. A whiff of foreign investments here and there, and magically, people became happier. The great Indian middle class suddenly had a lot more money at hand, and thus grew India’s great story of consumerism.

20 years later, advertisers and marketers are having the time of their lives. Children have turned out to become their most important demographic. ‘Pester Power’ has risen out of nowhere become their favorite client.

With the direct exposure to media and hard advertising, kids have become more aware and informed. By the age of 5, they have become brand sensitive.  By the age of 8, their parents are going to be consulting them to help them decide which laptop to purchase and while at the age of 12, the children will be calling shots on the family holiday destination.

So it come as no shock when school going children are equipped with their own android phones, iPods, Nintendo’s and DSLR’s. Sharing crayons has replaced sharing applications. Long gone are the days when kids would shout out to their friends across playgrounds, blackberry messengers are the way to communicate. Even at this age, peer pressure forces the rest of their peer group to follow suit. And what we are left with is an entire generation stuck in the perennial state of want.

In this bubble we have created for ourselves, the value of money has clearly been lost. All that today’s child has to do is throw a tantrum, or strike a deal with the parent to get around their way. The working parent’s guilt for being unable to spend time with their kid, or guilt for pushing them too far academically breeds the perfect ground for children to demand their requirements.

Consumerism has driven India into an elite class. It has helped pump money into our markets which has inadvertently led to some unbelievable growth, no doubt. But it’s as much as the social responsibility of the industry, as it is of the Indian parent. It needs to be ensured that advertising a product remains purely a promotion, and not brainwashing of the innocent mind. The child will believe what we lead him to believe, and such behaviour is just plain exploitation of their position.

This cycle of video games, iPods, junk food and endless academic pressure is just leading us down the American way. If this form of pampering from the Indian family continues, obesity and behavioural issues will not only become a national concern, but might just also alter our way of life for the worse.

The world of the 21st century is a vicious one. But do we really need to force children to graduate into consumers at such a tender age? Can we not forgo a few profits and refrain from making children brand conscious in hope that they might continue being customers at an adult age? Doesn’t it make more sense to raise children into socially, economically and financially sound adults in their own pace?

We need to ensure that children grow up to become sensible consumers who buy to their need, and not for the advertisements.

There is no way to run from this consumer driven society, but there is a way to keep it under check. We need to be careful, and we need to be smart; because to rephrase Ogilvy’s, “The consumer is not a moron. She is your kid.” (original quote: The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife).

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  1. Anirudh Nimmagadda


    I thought your article was very well written: I couldn’t help chuckling while reading through your prognosis of a kid-driven consumerist society (I realize that may not have been the reaction you were hoping to elicit… Sorry!), and I agree that such a thing might be accompanied by an increase in national obesity rates, among other such malaise. Those are both powerful points.

    However, there are a couple of positions of yours that I would like to challenge, one of them being the notion that “a whiff of foreign investment” was enough to make people happy by putting a lot of money in their hands. That’s not what happened at all! Foreign investment was necessary, but not sufficient, for the accelerated GDP growth our nation was desperately in need of at the time (1990-91): the liberalization of our economy played as important a role in its development as did globalization.
    Also, the development of a ‘rich’ middle class took years, even after the aforementioned reforms; they did not have a lot of money “suddenly at hand”, and all this is, in my opinion, not remotely related to the state of affairs as they are today.

    Secondly, I believe that the following statement: “Consumerism… inadvertently led to some unbelievable growth…” is erroneous. Economic growth generally comes, not from investment in production units of consumer goods, but from investment in capital goods. India transitioned from laggard to robust industrial economy during the nineties. The shift to consumerism is a relatively new phenomenon.

    Another thing I’d like to discuss is your stating that it is “… as much the social responsibility of the industry, as it is of the Indian parent” to ensure that advertising does not result in the “… brainwashing of the innocent mind”. Hogwash, I say! Why would brands like McDonalds and Toys “R” Us switch out cool promotions that kids can identify with, with something mediocre? How would they determine which ad-campaigns were guilty of “brainwashing” children, anyway? Most importantly, companies survive on profits; if all the companies existing today decided to be “socially responsible”, and to enact that replacement, not only would they immediately lose market share to the first new company that came along with better ads, their ‘sacrifice’ would’ve served no purpose! The only way I think the “greater good” argument would work, is if it were legally enforceable, but we all know how government intervention ends up in our country, don’t we?

    I submit that the responsibility for preventing the “brainwashing” of impressionable children rests solely on the concerned parents. It is their duty to ensure that their kid understands the real world. The feeling of guilt they have due to their not spending enough time with their children, pushing them too hard academically, etc., may be justified, but it is a great leap of illogic to give in to their every whim because of it, and without teaching them the value of money to boot! If a child asks his parents for something they are not comfortable buying, they should first choose to ‘not’ buy the item, and then, they must justify their decision! There is no excuse for acting differently.

    In conclusion: the next time you see a child throwing a tantrum, all so he can get his dad to buy him a video game, and you don’t like it, please refrain from blaming Nintendo! Walk up to the man and say “Do your duty, Sir!”

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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