UK families face consumer pressure, says report

Shopping centre Researchers found family life in the UK suffered from too much spending and not enough time together

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Parents in the UK feel powerless before the consumer pressures on their children, suggests international research into family life.

The study by Unicef, comparing families in the UK, Sweden and Spain, found UK parents buying high status brands to "protect" their children from bullying.

Parents in the UK struggled to spend enough time with their children.

The report also found parents in Sweden and Spain found it easier to "set clear boundaries for their children".

The study follows a Unicef report from 2007, which ranked the UK in bottom place out of 21 developed countries for the wellbeing of children.

Researchers from Ipsos MORI have now looked in depth at the particular pressures on UK parents and children.

They consulted 250 young people in total, comparing the experiences of a 24 families in the UK and two other Western European countries, and then discussing the findings in focus groups of children aged eight to 13.

They found that family life was "part of the fabric of everyday life" in Sweden and Spain.

'Brand bullying'

But in the UK families felt under much greater pressure - worried about a shortage of time with their children and feeling unable to resist the "materialism" of modern childhood.

Start Quote

It is a profoundly depressing analysis of British life, not least because it rings true”

End Quote Mark Easton BBC's home editor

Fears about not having the right brand of trainers or electronic gadgets for children meant that parents in the UK, particularly those on low incomes, felt they had to buy these goods, even if it meant getting into debt.

A 14-year-old from the UK told researchers: "No matter how much money they have, people still manage to put up a front of like they have money… You could live in a dustbin, and as long as you have an iPod, a Blackberry, then you're accepted."

This value attached to such possessions was a particular feature of family life in the UK, said report author Agnes Nairn.

"Fears about 'brand bullying' are much stronger in the UK. Parents seemed to feel much more helpless," said Dr Nairn.

"There was an incredibly strong feeling that children have to have these things to fit in - otherwise they'll be the only ones in their class not to have them."

The Unicef report describes parents as feeling "compelled" to buy - even though they knew much of this spending was "pointless".

"Toys, broken presents and unused electronics in the home were witness to this drive to acquire new possessions," say the researchers.

Family time

In comparison, Dr Nairn said that parents in Spain and Sweden seemed to find it easier to refuse to buy goods for their children - and that there seemed to be much less pressure to have particular brands.

In Sweden there are tougher limits on advertising aimed at young people, which Dr Nairn said could be a factor in a less consumerist culture.

Family life, including with the extended family, was more clearly protected in Spain and Sweden, the research suggests.

But in terms of children's wellbeing, the study found that time spent with family was what really brought satisfaction.

"It came out loud and clear that children want to spend time with their family and friends," said Dr Nairn.

But a culture of long working hours and distractions inside the house, such as computers and televisions, meant that families in the UK spent less time together.

Children also reported how much they enjoyed sports and outside activities - but again in the UK this was under pressure from the amount of time spent in front of television and computer screens.

Children's Minister Sarah Teather responded to the survey by saying: "We know strong, stable families are the bedrock of a successful society. We want to make sure all families have the help and support they need."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    Branding is an insidious part of aggressive Global Capitalism. A part of me says that pirating branding logos should be encouraged provided the "pirate" goods are fit for purpose. Various firms produce a pair of Trainers or a T-shirt etc, very cheaply in the Far East, add a badge and mark the price up ten-fold and we (the suckers) buy it. Don't be a sucker - stop paying the prices!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    My children, who are grown up were always under pressure to have brands by almost everyone, i tended to instill in them that items are for function, balanced with value for money. My two eldest see it as they have their own families now.

    My stepchildren who are 7 to 14 didn't have this until i cae along and were brand driven and no sense of value for money.The 14yr old will not change.Too late.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Money or no money, parents want to provide for their families and will do so at any means. One thing to do is address the problems with bullying at school and stop hiding behind poor parenting. Bullying occurs in schools regardless of the reason and it is this that needs addressing, if its not because of your phone, its due to your hair style or you sat next to the wrong kid in class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    I understand consumerism is god in the UK to some. When I was at school I remember being astounded that a certain kid tried to bully me over my brand of trainers. It didn't register as important to me and never will, maybe thats because my parents brought me up with better values and self confidence than hers had. Being different was something I was proud of and will instill in my children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Since moving to the UK from the Netherlands, I have found that my children feel under a lot more pressure due to homework and extra study for tests in school. Also, bullying in school should be dealt with more seriously. Understandably, parents want to make their kids happy by buying them things, but being there for them, listening and supporting them as much as you can will be more effective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    My wife, an ex-headmistress, helped me to understand how asking the right question is important when dealing with children. When addressing our children (and opthers) she never says "what do you want?" - rather she asks "what would you like?".

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    @ smartIgnoramus Having lived through the 30 years prior to the 80's & the subsequent years the problems of modern consumerism & lack of community have their roots in the changes to society that were made then & much to shame of many women our first lady PM was very instrumental in those changes. Dont recall saying all children grow up bad or that people dont have choices

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    The problem is is that those families with money give into every whim that their child gets over what they want. If they didn't, then there wouldn't be bullying in schools over stuff like this. Kids need to be taught the enjoyment that they can get out of making stuff like we were in the 80's. Gadgets like mobile phones, ipads, ipods, m3p players etc should be banned from schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    The world's gone mad.............since when did children rule their parents ?
    Time we learned from other countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    A sad, sad article. A world where the most important thing is what phone you use and what trainers you wear is a world that's really not worth living in. We need to end this ridiculous materialism. Why is it that people with good jobs often have older, less fashionable items than people who are unemployed? How did the supposedly deprived rioters have the latest electronic gadgets? Very odd.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.


    i'm a single mother, who just remarried, and all 3 of my children now hate me, so I know how it feels. It's not because of brands, but general peer pressure at school and at home. I was all my kids had, yes i worked long hours just to keep the roof on, they didn't have 'brands', its just daily life that is unaffordable now, nothing 'parenting' can change...

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    My 5 year old told me that a boy at school "only had an ice cream tub" instead of a branded lunchbox. "Gosh, that's SO clever!" was my response and explained how the money saved on the lunchbox could be spent on more fun stuff like a toy. It was a really simple way to show the pointlessness of expensive brands. It worked - She's had a sensible attitude towards brands ever since - and now she's 20!

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    sportsmum i agree there are many people on benefits who have no need or are capable of not being there, they maked me ashamed for every penny i have to beg the goverment for. were they are getting the money from for electrical goods, i barely scrape by enough for food some days and can only afford to heat my son's room in the winter, even this comp is a gift.but we are happy with what we have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Being good parents, It doesn't mean have to follow what is the children wanted. We have to say no, and explain why. It is better to spend quality life time and asking the children what they do in the school, and we will go something nice in outdoor play or in door play area or exercise such as swimming together.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Just what has gone wrong with this country? Greed, greed and more greed...what a sad country this has become.

    You can't always blame the parents...peer pressure can be so tough in this country where bullying just seems to cover every area of our lives ie schools, work place and even our politicians.

    Glad I'm not young anymore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    221. coram-populo-2010 "...we simply don't know enough...the cost to our planet of buying more/latest gadgets/plastics. Plastics/metals/toxic by products end up in other countries...poisoning ground-water.
    Children ask - where is this stuff made?"

    Again, you are 100% spot on. I would far rather see a 1,000 posts echoing your view on this subject, rather than 1 supporting anything I have said!

  • Comment number 229.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Apparantly we have so many messed up people who have trouble finding themselves, finding their own individuality.

    Parents are failing to teach importance of unique individuality, which is also missing from many job applicants who are so poorly equiped to set themselves apart from the masses & sell themselves to employers.

    Individual style & personality are more important than copycats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Another illustration of what the past 30 years has brought, supermarkets held only 20% of the grocery trade 30 years ago – now it's 80%.

    Independent businesses, variety and meaningful choice have been sacrificed to big business.

    SteveM @ 130: "No wonder this country is becoming an atheist society."

    A pity the PMs who promoted 'greed is good' were all self-declared Christians, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    209. rossglory "it's pointless saying it's bad parents or children, every culture has good parents and bad parents. this is a comparative study, the question is 'why the behaviour difference?'. it can't be the weather or the food.......could it possibly be 30 years of neoconservatism?"

    A comparative study of 24 families provides proof that this is the fault of "neo-conservatism"?!!!

    Yeah, right


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