“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.