More Stuff Means More Anxiety: Raising Creators, not Consumers

An opinion piece contributed by community member Karen Banes.  

If you spend much time around modern-day children you may have noticed the preoccupation many of them have with their possessions. It’s probably been around for years, but is definitely growing stronger, and for some it’s an obsession – and a source of anxiety.

Many children are growing up anxious about whether their possessions are ‘good enough’. Are their clothes the right brand? Do they have the latest gadgets? Do they need to trade in their phone for a Blackberry? Or their Blackberry for an iPad? Just what is the cool brand to have this week?

You may think I’m referring to teenagers, and of course I am. But I’ve heard children of ten or even younger obsessing about what brand their jeans are, or criticizing other kids based on the quality of their electronic gadgets.

Twenty first century children are often focused on themselves as consumers, rather than as creators or producers. Not only are they falling victim to advertisers and setting up unwise, impulsive buying habits for life, but, perhaps more importantly, they’re missing out on the joy and self-esteem that comes from creating something they can be proud of.

The psychologist Erik Erikson identified several developmental stages children naturally pass through. At each stage children are mastering particular concepts and skills and, according to Erikson, there is both a desirable and undesirable outcome for each stage. Between the ages of six and twelve, children go through the stage known as “Industry vs Inferiority”. No prizes for guessing which is considered to be the most desirable outcome for the child’s future happiness.

Industry is good for our children, especially at this age. Yet they’re still too young for a formal job. Industry can be encouraged through dedication to schoolwork, contributing effort to clubs and organized activities, or volunteering in the community as a family. But I also look on this as the phase where it’s vital that we teach our children the joys of creativity.

Depending on their age group, I encourage the children around me to create art, write stories, make jewelry or greeting cards, produce a play or record a song. Older children can start a blog or make short videos or slideshows to post on YouTube.

Many children this age don’t realize until they try it that there’s more satisfaction to be found in making a piece of jewelry than buying one. More satisfaction in learning to knit than shopping for a new scarf, more satisfaction in learning to play a musical instrument, than downloading songs from iTunes.

When kids produce creations of their own that they can be proud of, it takes the emphasis away from the raging consumerism that surrounds them. They start to self-identify as creators or producers, not just as consumers. They recognize and value their own creativity and talents. They stop being anxious about their possessions and start to be proud of their creations. If you can, encourage a child to start creating today, and set her up for a happier life.

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