February 4, 2008

To Buy or Not To Buy

By Margaret Deller
4-H Youth Development Educational Instructor

“Ethical consumerism may be loosely defined as the practice of purchasing products and services that actively seek to minimize social and/or environmental damage and the avoidance of products deemed to have a negative impact on society or the environment.”

According to market research:

  • The average youth has two shopping experiences a week.
  • 54% - 63 % of parents admitted that their children were active participants in shopping for cars.

  • Youth between the ages of 5 and 14 have a direct buying power of more than $40 billion and influence $146 billion worth of expenditures every year. Most of the guidance they receive on how to spend this $186 billion is from marketing.

Every day the youth are bombarded with messages to buy things. The ads are on the radio, TV, billboards, and almost every website they visit. Ads make up the bulk of magazines and newspapers. Even books have an “also available from this publishing house” section in the back. These messages say your life will be better; you will look better, feel better, be cooler, be richer, be smarter, and more famous, if you just buy this item. The overwhelming amount of consumer goods available and the advertising that goes with them has made our youth very consumeristic: youth have a preoccupation with and an inclination towards the buying of consumer goods.

4-H is changing this for the next generation of adult consumers. By training youth to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to each purchase we are helping them shop smarter. Consumer Choices ContestEach year the Florida 4-H office picks four products that youth purchase and creates a study guide to help the youth decide how to buy them. The youth compare product features, cost, how it is made, where it is made, applicability to a given situation, and even packaging.

Some of the studied items are needs; food, clothing, and shelter. But most of the items are wants; things you can live without. This year the youth will be learning about sports drinks, work-out wear, digital cameras, and bicycle helmets. The youth attend workshops on each topic and then test their knowledge in April at the Central Florida Fair 4-H Consumer Judging Contest. For the contest, the youth are given a situation and four products to choose from. They must rank those items from best to worst for that situation. Half of their score comes from a scantron recording of those answers, the other half from oral reasons. In oral reasons the youth must explain their selection to a judge. Even if their ranking is wrong the youth can score highly if their arguments are sound.

If you would like your child ages 8 - 18 to participate in this year’s workshops please contact Margaret at 727-582-2263 or The weekly workshops will be held in Largo starting March 10th and in St. Petersburg starting March 11th.,

Webster’s Dictionary

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