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When is a child spoilt?

Picture: Andrew Ingram

Picture: Andrew Ingram

Published Sep 16, 2011


There’s much hand-wringing in the British press about a Unicef report which reckons that UK parents buy their children branded toys rather than spending time with them.

The report - according to the London Independent - says that British families are unable to resist the “materialism” of modern childhood. Many parents told researchers they felt “compelled” to buy things for their children, even though they knew much of this spending was “pointless”.

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The author of the report, Dr Agnes Nairn, is quoted as saying: “Fears about 'brand bullying' are much stronger in the UK. Parents seemed to feel much more helpless. There was an incredibly strong feeling that children have to have these things to fit in – otherwise they'll be the only ones in their class not to have them.”

Researchers looked in depth at the pressures on parents and children, and compared the experiences of 24 families in the UK with others in Sweden and Spain.

Out here in the wilds of Africa, we are not immune. Who hasn’t bought a Ben 10 T-shirt, or a Barbie nightie? I’ve been a staunch cheap takkie mom - but finally my son does indeed have a pair of brand-name running shoes (they were a reward for winning a race at school - that’s what I’m telling myself, anyway).

Some of the triggers for buying expensive or pointless things for our children are clear: guilt, pressure, fear of our children being outsiders. But I’m interested in the whole question: where do we all draw the lines in what we give to our children?

Beyond the clear duties (love, food, education, respect, safety, routine, enough sleep), I’ve observed such different ideas about what is okay.

One kid gets R10 a week pocket money, another of the same age gets R30.

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Big ticket items (eg bicycles) are for birthdays - but other children get them when they need them.

One kid has two skateboards and a J-board. Another has none of these, even though they are affordable to that family.

My son desperately wants a pair of soccer boots - even though at his school those kinds of team sports only start next year for him. Some hard-assed part of me thinks he should wait till he’s actually in a team; a wiser (and nicer) colleague says buy him a cheap pair now, he just wants to fit in.

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At what point does generosity turn to over-indulgence? What’s a parent (or an uncle or an aunt or a grandparent) to do? Use our comment form below to share your tips for sense and sanity in a materialist world.

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