Raising Consumer Conscious Teenagers in an Age of Excess


“We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.” —Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

Six years ago, we sold, donated, and discarded most of our material possessions. It was a decision based on discontent with our current lives. We were tired of living paycheck to paycheck—never able to get ahead. And we were growing weary of all the time, energy, and effort our material possessions were draining from us. We realized we had too few resources left over for the things most important to us.

Not only were our possessions not adding joy to our lives, they were distracting us from the very things that did.

Since embarking on this life-giving journey, we have found this lifestyle resonates with most people who are introduced to it. Most of us know we own too much stuff. We have seen the pursuit of minimalism transform the lives of young couples, parents, and older generations. But one of our greatest desires is to also inspire teenagers to become conscience consumers and build a better life by owning less.

There are, of course, significant challenges in reaching teenagers with the message of owning less:

  • Our world grows increasingly materialistic.
  • Teenagers value acceptance and conformity with their peers.
  • Advertisers routinely and intentionally target the young adult demographic.
  • Teenagers are beginning to explore their own decision-making. As a result, they are often less likely to value input from others—particularly parents.

The challenges are formidable. But we also recognize the benefits of reaching students with the message of conscious consumerism:

  • Many of their significant decisions are still ahead of them. The message of simplicity helps equip them to make wise ones.
  • They are not in debt—yet. As a result, they are not held captive under the weight of creditors (especially housing, cars, student loans).
  • Their spending habits are not yet formed. They are definitely being shaped, but are not fully determined.

We must recognize the challenges before us. But, as parents ourselves, we also understand the importance of sparing our teenagers from decades of financial burden and empty promises of fulfillment. We recognize an important opportunity to inspire teenagers to pursue lives of greater value.

As parents, mentors, and community members, consider embracing these 10 important tips for raising consumer conscious teenagers in an age of excess:

1. Model simplicity. The cliche rings true, “Life lessons are better caught than taught.” The first (and most important) step in raising minimalist teenagers is to model for them the joys and benefits of intentionally living with less.

2. Encourage idealism. Many teenagers embrace idealism and desire to find a cause that can change the world. But far too often, teenage idealism is misunderstood and/or discouraged. It ought to be encouraged. Allow children of all ages to dream bigger dreams than cozy homes, cool cars, and white picket fences.

3. Volunteer as a family. Be active offering your time in the community through a local food bank, soup kitchen or community organization that serves the underprivileged in your area.

4. Watch less television. It’s not as hard as you think—and has immediate, positive results for you and your child.

5. Make teenagers pay for expensive items themselves. Every parent ought to provide food, clothing, shelter, and basic necessities. And every parent should give good gifts to their kids. But asking your teenager to purchase expensive items with their own money will create a stronger sense of ownership and a better understanding of the relationship between work, money, and consumerism.

6. Encourage teenagers to recognize the underlying message in advertising. Advertisements are not going away and can never be completely avoided. Help your child read behind the marketing message by often asking, “What are they really trying to sell you with this advertisement? Do you think that product will deliver on its promise?” If luck is in your favor, it can even become a fun little game in your family.

7. Find an ally. By the time your children have reached the teenage years, your role as a parent has changed significantly. In most families, teenagers are beginning to express independence in their relationship with their parents … but that doesn’t mean they’ll never listen. Find an accompanying voice in your community that subscribes to your values and provide opportunities for him/her to speak into your teenager’s life.

8. Discourage entitlement in your family. Often times, as parents, we work hard to ensure a significant advantage for our children by providing for them at all costs. But as we do, we equally run the risk of not preparing them for life by neglecting to teach them the truths of responsibility. It is hard work maintaining the possessions of life (lawns have to be mowed, cars cleaned & maintained, laundry sorted, rooms tidied). Expose teenagers to this truth as early (and as often) as possible.

9. Travel to less developed countries. This world is big and the cultures are varied. Some of the most teachable moments of my teenage years occurred while visiting third-world countries and experiencing the living conditions of those who live on so little (an estimated 6 billion people live on less than $13,000/year). Their joy and peace has served as an inspiration to me even up to this day.

10. Teach them what matters most is not what they own, but who they are. A man or woman of noble character holds a far greater asset than those who have traded it for material possessions. Believe this truth. Live this truth. And remind the teenagers in your life of it as often as possible.

We have chased happiness, joy, and fulfillment in the pursuit of riches and possessions for far too long. (tweet that)

It is time we intentionally raise a generation that values greater things.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Great message, Joshua.

    Although I’m no longer there, it’d be great to have you give a talk at EMCC. I started a volunteer club while I was there and I believe they’re still going strong (one of the most active clubs, I believe.) Would love to put you in touch with some of their current leaders.

    I think it’s about 15 minutes away from you if I’m remembering correctly.

  2. says

    I absolutely believe in the value of travelling to a less-developed country as a child or teenager to see those less fortunate. It changes the perspective of a young person when they see someone who is living on far less than themselves and are happier for it.
    It is enlightening and eye-opening not only for adults but for children who are introduced to people in less developed countries, who are introduced to the way these individuals live, their homes, their possessions, and everything else. It changes them from the inside out. I have seen that time and time again.

  3. says

    I don’t have kids of my own (perhaps someday!) but I remember something my mom did with my younger sister. Every time she received something new, she had to get rid of something. That forced my sister to decide which of her possessions were most important to her and which she could live without.

    Unfortunately, my sister hasn’t carried that on with her own kids, who now live in a house overrun with more toys than they could ever possibly use. As much as I love my nieces and nephews, I sometimes feel guilty buying them Christmas presents, knowing they don’t what I’m giving them.

    • whereisb says

      I have a niece and nephew, 8 and 6 respectively, who live in a house that is full of toys. For Christmas and birthdays they receive an abundance of toys. After tearing one gift open they’ll toss it aside and grab the next gift. A few years ago I decided that I would provide experiences, not toys. Whether it’s Christmas lights at the zoo and ice sculptures while sipping hot chocolate, a day at an amusement park or the children’s museum, an arcade, or racing go-carts, these are the things they remember and they look forward to their new adventures with Auntie B. What’s even better is that I can find new ideas for family and kid friendly experiences on daily discount sites like Groupon and Living Social.

    • Judy says

      I know what you mean. I go through the same thing with one particular nephew. Unless it’s some expensive electronic toy—he will rudely toss it to the side. And I refuse to indulge him. I can’t believe his parents allow that. I always taught my girls to say thank you and be appreciative no matter what…even if it was a gift they weren’t wild about. How sad…and some children would be happy for a scrap of food or clean drinking water! Not this kid. He even broke a toy I gave him once. Cracked it in half and said, “This is crap!” He’s 7…and his parents said nothing! Unreal.

    • Marissa P says

      We are still trying to convince extended family that our kids would love experiences more than things as presents. It could be a lunch date or a special event. It could be a gift certificate to play Lazer-Tag or money towards the new sport or summer camp they want to try. One of my kid’s favorite gifts was a year subscription to Highlights (kids) magazine, from their aunt. They loved watching the mailbox anticipating it each month and then pouring over it for weeks. Plus, each month it gave them a little reminder that their Aunt loved them. If you wanted you could even do the same thing by sending them a little note or card once a month. Those are the kind of things they will remember.

  4. says

    As usual Josh, you are right on point. I am raising four children, including my oldest, a young teenager, to intentionally live with less. (I find the irony in the fact that my fat fingers tried to type “mess” instead of “less” three times above.) Just this past weekend we had a garage sale. My children asked if we were selling our things because we “need the money?” I responded, “No guys. We are selling these things because we don’t need the burden of these things that have outlived their purpose here.” I love that you refer to minimalism as “live-giving.” This sentiment couldn’t be more true. I was sure to point that out as special items they were once attached to found new homes with the strangers who walked off with them for pennies on the dollar. To my youngest son of six, “See, that push car is going to make a new little boy just as happy as you once were the day it came home to you! Aren’t you excited for him to feel that way too?” And the highlight of the day, when my teen who selected several books and video games of his to sell asked if he could keep the money from his portion of the sale. I said, sure but only if you save it for at least a month. I want you to really think about how you’d like to trade that money. He asked me, “trade it?” And I said, “Yes. Every purchase we make is nothing more than a trade for our hard-earned money in exchange for something we feel is more important to have. So be thinking about how it felt to trade those books and games for the few bucks you got and be sure what you trade those for is worth parting with them.” He replied, “I really want new game cards. But I’ll wait a month to make you happy Mom.” Oiy. Baby steps ;)

  5. says

    Right on Joshua!

    It’s much easier to instill these values when our children are pre-teens. And I have to agree, it’s something we model from the top vs. telling. Making it fun and having open dialog about advertising, the need to share or not having an entitled mindset also encourages our children to think and make decisions on their own.

    Applying these tips will make our children better people.

    Great post!

  6. Hudson Burgess says

    My family’s consumerist lifestyle is actually what drove me to minimalism. Our house is too big and too cluttered and it’s surprisingly exhausting just to be in it, especially coming back from a year of college during which I actively pursued minimalism. I start my second year in the fall and will be moving into my rental house soon; I’m looking forward to the opportunity to take only the items I truly need and set an example for myself, my friends, and my family.

  7. says

    Joshua, Oh how I wish I had grown up this way. My family did live minimally to some extent, but I left home with no concept of the value of money and things. Many future adults are going to benefit from what you have shared here, my friend.

  8. says

    When I first heard of minimalism, I was hooked. We had a house stuffed with things. We now have a camper and all our belongings (except for a few special items stored at my husband’s parents’ home) are with us. I love having less space, less to maintain. Though it does get crowded sometimes with nine people; I don’t think I’d ever want to go back to a house!

  9. says

    Thank you Joshua. Tip #2 is something I had not directly considered before. I intend to engage my kids in this area and encourage their idealism. This is a very positive message.

  10. says

    Great post Joshua! My little Tater Tot is only a year old, but we are trying very hard to raise him with experiences and time with one another rather than a house filled to the max with toys. It won’t always be easy, but I think it’s a value very much worth the effort.

  11. says

    Thank you for this message, Joshua. I agree with all 10 tips that are so good, they should be adopted as rules. #6 (Encourage teenagers to recognize the underlying message in advertising) and #10 ( Teach them what matters most is not what they own, but who they are) are among the most important.

  12. says

    I think it’s important for parents to be aware that even if their ideas aren’t taken up straight away, it’s worth continuing on. Most teenagers rebel against their parents at some point and reject whatever they have to say as a way of creating their own identity, but the messages they received as a child will stick around, and they’re far more likely to revisit them as an adult.

    My parents were very involved in the organic food movement when I was a child, and this philosophy spilled into other areas of our life (we wore a lot of second hand clothing, didn’t have a TV for a long time, etc.). My brothers and I HATED it when we were young – all we wanted to do was watch TV and have the same kind of bread as our friends. But now my older brother is very committed to meditation and yoga and has spent time volunteering in orphanages in India, while I focus on eco/ethical fashion.

    So if you apply these ideas to your children and they don’t accept them at first, I would encourage you to continue in small and steady ways. You might be surprised at the results in 5 or 10 years!

  13. says

    Fabulous post. I wish my parents would have done this stuff with me. I also worry about the future of society. It seems we are becoming more of a class divided country. You have the Kardashians and then you have the people who live meagerly who are numbing themselves by consuming hours of the Kardashians.

    Number 10 is my favorite. It is so important to teach that character is so much more important than what you own or who you know.

  14. says

    In our family of two cultures(my husband is American),our girls will benefit a lot from it. And me,coming from a third world country (Philippines)will show our girls how to live right and how to be thankful and contented of what they have. I also learn from my friends’ kids how the peer pressure affects their kids lives but I think it’s all depends on their parents if they will let their kids go with the flow or teach them the right thing.
    Great post!

  15. says

    Wonderful Post!!! The teen and pre teen years had been the toughest years for our own family to keep our daughter on track with our Minimalistic lifestyle. We have been living a minimalistic lifestyle for over 5 years now and still our children get influenced by their environment.The media and friends have a tremendous influence on them. Thank you for a timely post.

  16. Henry says

    Hey Joshua,
    I’m currently a college freshman (18) and although I don’t have kids (and don’t plan on having any for several years), I wanted to say that I will definitely use these ideas when I raise my children with a minimalist mindset. Your blog helped introduce me to minimalism and I cannot stress how much it has improved my life. I currently live with my parents in a cluttered home that is far too full of stuff that we never use. My room is my minimalist haven where I can go to escape the clutter. I’d just like to thank you for all your posts which have given me advice on how to start and further my minimalist journey and also how to direct my parents towards minimalism. Thank you for truly helping improve my life. God Bless!

  17. Alex Brady says

    I am 19 and have been reading your blogs for almost a year now, and I think the idea of trying to reach teenagers is fantastic. So many of my peers are interested in gaining material possessions, but I know that those things will never bring them true joy. I am so thankful that I was able to start reading this website as a teenager, while I can still easily change my spending habits.

  18. Sanna says

    Hi Joshua!

    I just wanted to enforce that the most important of all these tips is number 1! Also, I would add another tip, which would be: help them (encourage them) to travel on their own.
    I had times in my life – in my teens/very early twenties when I was definitely drawn to shopping and/or collecting things. As you pointed out teenagers love to do things differently than the people they know, so e.g. at around 15/16 I looked down on my Mom for not using any make-up ever and started trying out that new-to-me field of cosmetics: in the following years I bought rather a lot of stuff and learnt to use it. However it has it’s downsides, as it costs much time and money and is a burden to take with you on travels etc. At 21 or 22 I stopped using make up everyday and came down to a much more sensible/minimalist using (and buying) habit. I’m happy I always knew because I grew up with it that this was absolutely no necessity whatsoever, so that was an easy step for me. I always feel pity for women who don’t dare going out of the house sans make up. After all, women aren’t that much uglier than men, are they? So no need to cover up faces all the time! ;-)
    Similar things helped me with lots of changes in my habits. Sometimes we need to try out things in our youth – even foolish things – but it’s remembering those examples of people who do differently, who say remarkable things that question your way of thinking that help making the changes when you sense yourself that something feels not right with your current lifestyle. (another example: I tended to worry and think a lot about the future and always made big plans about life etc. I once asked a friend what he was going to do in about 5 years, and his blunt answer was “it’s the future, so I don’t know!”- haha! Of course, I’m not advertising to not plan ahead at all, but this little sentence brings me down to earth ever so often and reminds me that all our future plans are per se uncertain and I should try to live more in the present!)

    As for the travel-on-your-own-part: there’s nothing than realizing yourself that out of this nasty 25kg-suitcase you could barely lift, but had to carry around, you could have left so much at home because you didn’t need it after all. Also, to come back to your home after a few weeks and realizing you didn’t miss your “precious” belongings once! An experience that should be made early and repeated often! ;-)

  19. Sheri says

    Great list! I implement much of this already, but will be sharing the list with my friends!

    Regarding #5…

    The best thing I ever did was write a schedule of simple chores, most which my ten year old had been doing for a couple years, and designate an allowance, age amount of dollars per week, (paid at the beginning of each month, so 40 per month, then– even months with more weeks than that, taxes, yanno. ;) ) half of which we go to the bank and put in his savings, monthly, to be spent when he wants something big, he says he’s saving for a car… The other half can be saved up or spent as he likes. But he is NOT to ask me to buy anything extra outside of birthdays/Christmas anymore. His list of things he HAS TO HAVE has gone down drastically, and he thinks greatly before he spends. He also must put half of birthday/Christmas monies in the bank. He’s about to turn 13, and he knows what it means to earn and spend, and we are currently showing him what it means to live with less stuff. I hope it sticks. Bonus is he gets a raise every birthday. :)

    We also have a just turned two year old who we had a party for last weekend and I told people if they wanted to gift, that we are purchasing a wagon for him, and if they contribute they can write in the book we are creating for him, complete with pics of him riding around town. Contributions to his savings account were also an option, and with that, writing in the journal for him which he can read later telling him all the wonderful people who contributed, and their wishes for him. Of course, my friends are hilarious, and wrote stuff like, “this is for your first Vegas trip/hookers and blow/bail money.” *sigh* he can read that when he’s 21 and laugh. At least I didn’t have a lots of packaging trash and crappy plastic toys! Yay, minimalism!

  20. says

    As a 7th grade teacher who is pursuing a minimalist lifestyle more and more myself, I have often cringed at some of the comments of my students and how much they have already been sucked into the idea of consumerism and its supposed rewards. Although I could never have the kind of influence a parent doing these things could have, I was pleased to find that I am doing some of these things unconsciously (or consciously) in my classroom. For example, at the end of my trimester-long Spanish class, I do a whole class period filled with pictures from my time in El Salvador, with one of my key take-away points being how lucky we are to enjoy so many conveniences and luxuries that we so often take for granted (like washing machines and ovens). Sometimes some of the students will make fun of the poverty they see in the pictures, but I’m hoping that with persistence, my message will at least reach some of them. Thank you for this post! I don’t usually comment, but know that you have an appreciate reader who is endlessly grateful to have found your blog. Keep up the good work!

  21. Ralf says

    That’s the smallest problem right now.
    There will be war with Russia, North Korea, China and the Caliphate.
    There will be war by police and against police.
    Unemployment in America will skyrocket after the oil industry crumbled.
    Detroit and Ferguson are just the beginning.
    Influenza, measles, whooping cough, dengue, chikungunya, tuberculosis, meningitis will swoop over the continent.

    On the other hand with all auper markets closed those who are content will survive and thrive.

  22. Stacy says

    When I was 13 I went to the Dominican Republic. We went on a tour and the guide asked us if we noticed that everyone was happy. How can people be so happy and have so little? Easy..there’s no money.
    17 years later and it’s still the most memorable part of that trip,

  23. says

    I can’t tell you how much I love this article Joshua! To pass on these important qualities, Minimalist or not, is one of the best gifts you could give your children. I have a rather unique teenage daughter. She’s the one that got ME into Minimalism! She came to me one day and asked me to sell all of her bedroom furniture in her room. She bagged up most of her clothes and we donated them. We sold her furniture and used the cash to buy music festival tickets that we went to together. Somehow through that experience with my teenager I found Minimalism. To this day she still has her bed on the floor and one night stand.

  24. Lizzie Hough says

    Having begun our married life as minimalists, we naturally incorporated most of these ideas when raising our children. Consequently, as adults, they are quite frugal and very understanding and compassionate about the needs of others. They are service oriented, but still know how to get the greatest pleasure from the least amount of expense.
    Must tell this story about our middle daughter and her closest friend. When Zieka was 13, her father was in a major construction accident. Our frugal life became even more frugal. I still had a nursing toddler so full time work was out but I did take a one day a week job at a friend’s consignment shop and was the seamstress for the store. One of the benefits was being able to purchase clothing for our family at an even greater savings, with my employee discount. Well, Zieka was having a conversation with her friend, who was a bit spoiled and “entitled”. They were talking about clothing and such, as teenage girls do. At one point the other girl commented “Oh, you have no reason to complain. Your family is RICH!”Zieka laughed and said where did you get that silly idea. The girl said, well, you always have such stylish clothing and such. Zieka couldn’t wait to tell me about this as she rarely wore anything that cost even five dollars. Plus, we resold and recycled her clothing as needed.
    We were out of debt when her Dad had the accident, only paid cash, raised most of our own food, etc.. We had five children, all home educated (less peer pressure, for sure) and simply lived free because we worked at it. And we always tithed… a tenth of every cent that came in… and gave away continually to others. Still live that way and so does Zieka, with her husband and five children.
    Folks, it can be done and your teenagers will embrace these ideas if they are treated with love and respect and minimalism is considered a joy rather than a punishment.
    Start today…learn to live free and teach your children the same.

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