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 265.

    @Scott 250. I agree with you. When my daughter was born I was told by a colleague that she would want "all the designer stuff". This came from a woman who spent more on a mascara than I did on a dress! Needless to say, my daughter didn't, in fact she went the totally opposite route and despises overt labels, considering them free advertising for companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    Too many parents are suckers for celebrity, branding, fashion and popular culture. And, they mainline this to their children. Orwell was right except for one important detail. It is not just the Proles who are brainwashed by moronic consumerism. It aflicts all classes, even the social elite celebrity breakfast TV presenters with their PPEs from Oxford and Prada accessories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    We can't blame the schools, the government or even the advertisers - as parents it is our job to educate our child the difference between a 'want' and a 'need'. This starts before school when the toddler in the shop, demands mummy I need chocolate - being a mum, I would have explained 'You don't need chocolate you want it! And, you can't have everything you want in life.' Simple parenting, works

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    @Laurence: This may be the case, but only a minority of Spanish private schools have school uniform or any sort of dress code, and they come out favourably in this study compared to the UK. Parents are by far the most important influence on a child's life and attitudes towards consumerism at home are surely more significant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    the time when children are most affected is when they are at school. if the schools brought back in to play strict uniform rules and did not permit make-up and sloppiness when wearing uniform it would go along way to combating a portion of this issue because all teh children would be dressed the same, have the same bags etc.. uniform is there to make everyone equal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    I think it is hard for any parent to deny their kids' consumerist attitude because the parents are far far worse! In a society where parents would prefer to be judged by their ownership of an ipad than whether they spend time with their children, how can they expect their children to see the world any different?

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    We want our children to grow up being competitive, successful and hence contributing to a strong national economy but at the expense of those who are not successful and therfore are marginalised. Now as we learn to live with a zero growth economy I wonder if all those "successful" kids will remain competitive with little reward or even they are feeling marginalised. It's time for a new way of life

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    Bill Hicks had a great stand up routine about marketing people. You have to teach your children how to analyse the insidious manipulation of marketing. They will not be immune but combined with the word NO they will be that little bit more free. Go and stand in your local mall and look around and wonder where all this stuff comes from and what is the point? Is this all humanity has become?

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Well in my opinion now a days parents work harder to make their kids happy because when they were kids they didn't have such brands or toys which is fine I believe, these parents should learn from their own experience that that is not the key of happiness or success, spending quality time with their kids and having healthy relationship with their partners is the biggest happiness for their kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    We have a low self esteem. We are addicts that crave material consumption. The pushers are the industry that persuade you to dispose of the clothes from last winter as they will not suffice this winter. We lack self esteem because our parents never valued time with us. An awkward distraction, we should be seen and not heard. The greatest gift you can give is your children is your time not an iPad

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    my parents are in the fortunate position of having a 6 figure household income, however as their kids we have never recieved flashy presents or designer goods. most stuff at christmas comes from TK Maxx. Pocket moeny was always under that of my peers, and this has made me grow up to appreciate not being lured into the suckers game of keeping up with the Joneses. Parents need to say no. You can...

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    #130 SteveM
    Yeh, atheism is real the problem here. I mean, religion has solved SO many problems already.

    The greed people are talking of is orchestrated by a small minority holding the majority of wealth, and a lack of backbone shown by politicians, who, in an effort to get votes, want to show their economic tinkering is increasing economic output (like that's the most important thing EVER).

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    I find it interesting that Children in the West,the richer nations seem to value mostly things which is of little importance in the grand scheme.I have visited Cambodia and Vietnam recently and the children there seem more content and really enjoy and value things like their education (not to say they are all happier).We unfortuately are into the 2nd generation of a brand obsessed society

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    @coram-populo-2010. I agree with everytging you have said. My own children were never shielded from the realities of sweatshops, poverty etc, we talked about everything under the sun and NOTHING was taboo. The result is I now have two well balanced young adults, with respect for others and, more importantly, themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    I think these pressures have always been there. We are, like the US, a very materialistic nation. The expression "keeping up with the Jones'" has been around since time immemorial. The real difference now is the possibilities offered up by the advance of accessible credit. Prior to this, if a child wanted something, the parent had no choice but to say no. That restrainer has now been removed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    Having kids should be a priviledge not a right. There are too many people who should just not be having kids. Most people have no idea of the committment required (time, lifestyle change & financial) and are just too dumb to realise it, thanks to not being educated by their parents who leave the (broken) state to try and raise them instead. Don't breed unless you can give a child a proper life!

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Get the latest brands and be a mugging victim. Don't get the latest brand and be a bullying victim. Such defacto exist in later life also, and until you grow the brawn to stand up for yourself, you will remain a victim throughout life unfortunately. Socialism sucks sometimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    It's all very well saying we should avoid brand bullying, spend more time with the kids etc - however it comes down, again, to having to work to meet basic needs, such as household bills, the mortgage. If things were eased up, costs capped, then the need to work as long could be avoided and the time spent with our children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    My parents raised 5 kids while running their own business. They went through many recessions and other hardships and they worked all hours to make ends meet, but always made time for their children, the one constant was that time spent together as a family was the most important of all. We never had expensive presents unlike many of our contemporaries and I thank them for that every day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    These surveys are useless...." Children also reported they enjoyed sports and outside activities - but in the UK this was under pressure from the amount of time spent in front of television and computer screens."

    What does that mean....Theyre putting themselves under this pressure...they are making choices!
    The smart kids will be choosing to get educated, and ignore the dumb stuff


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