Ask a child if they have consumer power and they might look at you quizzically.
But ask a child what their favorite store, toy, or food is, and you’ll see some of their super purchasing powers come to life—especially if they have a penchant for loudly bargaining in the checkout line.
Kid’s consumer power goes further than making decisions with their allowance or throwing a tiny tantrum for a Snickers bar. With guidance and information, you can help kids see that they have agency in making a positive difference in their world.
How can you support the kids in your life to become more conscious consumers?
1. Take it to The Shop
Whether you’re a parent, a volunteer, or a teacher, there are countless opportunities to teach kids that they have power just by having a say in or a desire to buy certain products. One of the strongest ways to impart this knowledge is to create practical, “hands-on” experiences.
Choose Products with Minimal Packaging
Once upon a time, the world believed that extra packaging was a sign of quality and prestige.
We now know that packaging is mostly waste. Next time you have the opportunity to look at a product with children, ask them to look at the package it comes in.
Does a single pen really need all of that packaging? (Try out New York based design company Seltzer’s Seven Year Pen for a stylish solution!) Does their new toy really need that huge box? If you dump out a bag of pretzels and lay them on their bag does the packaging really need to be so large?
This can be a great activity at the store, at home, or in a teaching environment.
Buy FSC Certified Paper Products
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an organization that certifies wood and paper products grown in forests are responsibly managed. It’s easy to check for the FSC label on pencils and paper. Teaching children to look for the FSC symbol is an easy, and effective, way to show them they have a choice in what they buy and where it comes from.
2. Take it to The Source
Oftentimes, children don’t understand where their food or favorite products come from. They assume their favorite snacks come from the aisles of the grocery store or their favorite toys come from Target, Toys R Us, etc. Teaching children about where their products really come from can make a vast difference in teaching them how to make conscious consumer choices.
Visit A Local Farm or Company
Often local farms have visiting programs for kids (and adults) to learn more about where their food comes from and what’s healthy to eat. LocalHarvest.org helps you to search for farms in your area, and provides further information about their hours, availability, produce, and more. If you’re visiting as a family, be sure to call ahead—farmers are some of the busiest people and they’ll want to be prepared for their visitors.
Once you’ve picked a farm, help your kids prepare questions before you arrive. What do they want to they want to learn? Feel free to be curious and wonder aloud with new questions to show your children this is the perfect environment to ask the experts.
Support Local Food Producers
Carbon emissions from trucks hauling produce and fruit across the continent is a big problem that can easily be reduced by purchasing food items from local producers. Look for farmer’s markets or grocery stores that carry local products.
3. Believe in their Power
For two and a half years I worked as an elementary school librarian in a DC public school serving a predominantly ESL (English as Second Language) population with Title I status. Title I status is achieved when at least 40% of a school’s students are from low-income families—in my school’s case it was closer to 90%. The school population’s proximity to the White House and Chinatown area of Washington, D.C. often meant a stark contrast between poverty and wealth.
Consumer power didn’t exactly feel like a hot topic in this setting, but my students never ceased to amaze me with their eagerness to see how they could change the neighborhood and world they lived in.
From raising money for tsunami relief in the Philippines to campaigning for better use of our school’s energy (“Miss Oliver—you unplug all of the computers at the end of the day, RIGHT?”), my time teaching taught me that children, no matter their socioeconomic background, are always enthusiastic to learn how they can make a difference. Most parents and educators can attest to the same.
Children need guidance as they grow no matter where they live or come from. Teaching kids that their choices as consumers make a difference can greatly change the future of our planet for the better.
4. Lead By Example & Look For Answers Together
Kids are constantly looking around and taking it all in, with plentiful questions to back up their curiosities. While they’re not asking questions, they are paying close attention to the people and world around them. Leading by example is therefore an easy, and extremely important, way to educate.
A Golden Rule
Children have power to make a difference. Whether it’s helping to identify eco-friendly products at the store or writing letters to local politicians about topics that matter to them, it is important to let children know that their voice makes a difference. Don’t be surprised when they start coming up with their own causes and ideas for solutions. Sometimes all anyone needs is for someone to say that they believe in them.
Look For Answers
I am never surprised when children ask a question about an important topic that I had never even considered myself. Often, they are ready to start thinking about solutions, too. Try Kid Rex, a custom search engine from Google that is just for kids, to get them started. You could also make it a community activity by visiting the library or reaching out to experts together.
Setting aside time to talk about important topics with kids is the best way to give them the information needed as they grow up in a changing world. Through teaching and leadership you can help kids harness their consumer power—don’t be at all surprised at the differences they then make.
Amanda Oliver is a freelance writer, librarian, and frequent traveler. Currently all of her belongings fit into one suitcase. Visit her website, or follow her on Twitter: @aelaineo.