Marketers may even be better than moms when it comes to using guilt—especially when they’re using guilt on soon-to-be moms. The message, sent implicitly or sometimes quite overtly, is that how and what parents purchase for the children are direct reflections on them as parents. How could you not want the very best (i.e., the most expensive stroller, crib, toy, whatever) for your child? If you skimp out, what does that say about you as a parent?
Anyone who has actually raised a child for a few years knows that this line of thinking is complete B.S. And now, perhaps due to the recession and a reevaluating of values, perhaps just because the baby industrial complex was overdue for a backlash, parents seem to be waking up to the fact that buying $200 toys and $900 strollers may in fact demonstrate poor parenting. A good parent is responsible and makes decisions wisely, looking out for the child’s well-being in the long run. That goes doubly during uncertain economic times. And, well, the $900 that could have been spent on a plush stroller is probably better off in the bank, waiting to be used for expenses like braces and college.
The Times Fashion & Style section observes that parents just aren’t throwing around their money on baby detritus like they used to. One of the steepest falloffs in sales can be seen in the category for toys and goods intended for children under a year old. Sales are down by more than one-third over the last year. Makes sense to me: This stuff is totally unnecessary. At this age, my kids were more interested in playing with my watch or a cardboard box or their own toes than with any toy that had ever been placed in front of them.
Another stat stands out in the Times story: Until recently, American kids received, on average, 70 new toys per year. Holy moly!
Children learn by example, and for years much of what we’ve been teaching them is how to be consumers. Not savvy consumers or wise or responsible consumers, but bulk consumers. Hopefully, now that more parents are realizing that it’s OK—good, responsible even—to use hand-me-downs and swap toys and gear with friends and family, we’ll be teaching kids entirely new lessons. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll avoid the financial messes that so many of today’s adults—and the country as a whole—find themselves in.