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Will my kid feel left out if our family avoids branded merchandise?
It's possible. Branded merchandise is marketed to take advantage of kids' desire for peer validation, status, and exclusivity. But kids are sensitive to what's "in" and what's "out" to varying degrees. Some kids really care. Some kids don't care at all. And some kids actively choose to be different from their peer groups.
It's important to take kids' feelings seriously, even if you yourself reject commercial culture. But that doesn't mean you have to go out and buy your son or daughter a Gap T-shirt. Here are some ways to live your values without compromising your kid's social life:
If your kid is feeling left out, explore what's going on. The logos, symbols, and other visual cues are a starting point, but there may be real underlying social issues. If your kid is getting made fun of or being left out, you might need to talk to her teacher or the other kids' parents.
Explain your values around branded merchandise. Discuss how you arrived at your beliefs and why you feel they're important. Explain that "stuff" doesn't make you a better person and that acquiring things doesn't actually make you feel better.
Talk about generic brands and compare labels. Store brands, off-brands, and no-name products often are produced in the same factories. Show your kids labels and compare quality and other attributes to drive home the point that there's often no difference between the branded stuff and the other stuff -- except price.
Help them understand how marketers target products at kids. Depending on the age of your kid, you can point out some of the strategies marketers use to expand brand recognition. Your kid may feel a sense of pride that he's not being duped.
Help your kid connect with other kids from families who share your values. You're not the only family who doesn't buy into branded merchandise. You'll find your people -- and your kid will, too.