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Teenage Consumers: Teaching Teens To Be Smart Consumers

Little kids are hoarders. Whether it’s fast food toys, action figures, rocks, or all the above, more is always better at that age. But as kids become teens, it’s time to teach them:  When should I choose between quality or quantity? Here are some tips.

Start a Conversation On Teen Spending

Seattle mom Rhonda McRae was helping her 15-year-old son, Kyle, clean his room. She noticed him staring at his Pokémon cards. “As he was clearing them out, he remarked that he’d spent a small fortune on them. I hope that will stick in his mind when he’s looking to buy something now.”

Quality or Quantity?

Even if your teen isn’t mentally adding up those wasted dollars, you can help them get on the right track. Ask questions about their choices and preferences. And help them think through what became of certain purchases, or how they felt when a cheap product immediately broke, suggests Weena Cullins, a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist in Largo, Maryland.

But be careful of being judgmental, which will just make teens tune you out, warns Maggie Baker, a psychologist and author of Crazy About Money. “Teens want control, so just help them see what they might do differently next time.”

Help Them Do the Research

Teens love to reach their own conclusions. So give them the tools to be discerning consumers by showing them how to find reviews from reputable, unbiased sources. “Assist your child with price and quality comparisons on several purchases by having a casual discussion about what factors might make a certain product cost more than a similar one,” Cullins advises.

And introduce your teen to the concept of cost per use: Sometimes spending more is better, if it’s something they’ll use all the time, like a bike, versus a unicycle that you’re pretty sure is a passing fancy.

You might also help kids think through the environmental consequences of too much stuff, suggests Baker. If your teen is into “fast fashion” and grabs cheap clothing every time they hit the mall, suggest some research on the effect these products have. Teens might be tempted to consume less when they consider sustainability. But avoid heavy-handed preaching, Baker reminds parents.

Is It Ever Better to Go Cheap?

We definitely don’t want our kids to fill their rooms with a bunch of junk. But there’s also a danger that they might expect only the best if their parents are slaves to expensive brand names.

“If teens are forgetful or especially hard on things, don’t invest too much in products that may get lost or broken before they can get a return on the investment,” Cullins advises.

And, she adds, don’t expect a teen to take better care of something just because it costs more. “High price tags don’t necessarily make kids more responsible. But they do make parents more frustrated if something is lost or broken.”

For some items, less can be more. When my own son lost his second pair of high-priced sunglasses, I half-jokingly told him that’s why we moms don’t buy expensive sunglasses: We’ve lost so many pairs over the years that we know better.

Sometimes they learn lessons the (really) hard way about when to invest, as mom Jenelle Clinton found with her daughter’s iPhone case, ordered for a mere $6 from China. “Literally within an hour, she dropped her phone and the screen shattered. She learned that with some things, cute just isn’t enough.”

Cathie Ericson

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Read more about Cathie at cathieericsonwriter.com.