How Merchandising Makes Use of Bullying and Why It Shouldn’t Be Tolerated

Merchandising makes use of bullying to sell things. The practice is not new. Advertisers and retailers probably took their cue from the media. Just a short half-hour on one of the many reality-based television shows demonstrates how much our consumer culture is entertained by insults, even when those insults are self-directed.

While this is a more blatant example of a form of bullying specific to TV, merchandisers have learned their lesson well, producing commercials, ads, and brands that prey on consumers’ fears.AmyWilliams4

One recent example comes from Aéropostale’s Chief Executive Officer Julian Geiger, who stated to analysts and investors that. “The teenager today wants to fit in. They want to fit in by wearing things that make them feel safe. If there’s a brand promise to Aéropostale, it’s that the teenager can wear our clothes, go to school and not be teased or made fun of [for] the way they look.”

While an over-confident philosophy, it is also ridiculous. If a certain brand of clothing could keep junior high and high school students from making fun of their peers, we wouldn’t have invested thousands of hours of time and effort all over the country in anti-bullying curriculums. And therein lies the truth of our consumer culture: when we rely on advertising to guide our purchases, we end up buying a big bag of lies.

What are Advertisers and Retail Stores Trying to Sell?

The nature of advertising is to pick on the fears of individuals specifically and the community at large. Advertisers mean to take advantage of our insecurities and basest desires; pointing out what we do not have and reassuring us their products provide for our needs.

Car companies aren’t selling cars; they’re selling status, comfort, speed, and safety. Food companies are not selling specific food items; they’re selling taste, good health, convenience, and time with family and friends.

And apparently retail stores catering to teens aren’t selling clothes; they’re selling self-esteem, security, and popularity.

Can a Clothing Brand Keep Teens Safe From Bullying?

The foundational truth that many of us miss when we are inundated with advertising messages on a daily basis is that we have been promised lies. Instead of the status and envy of others that a new car provides, we get deeper in debt. The appearance of food does not guarantee that all the kids will make it around the table for dinner or that we will be in better health. And certain kinds of clothes do not result in friendships or popularity at school.

The truth that advertisers would prefer consumers not to discover is that very few of the products we recognize due to extensive advertising are those that we actually need.


Kids are Consumers

Recent research shows that children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend as many as 11 hours in front of a screen, usually television or other electronic devices that run programs geared towards entertainment.

The programs and games targeting tweens and teens are filled with ads of various kinds, many of them sending false messages to both girls and boys. The primary message for girls is that they aren’t pretty enough, and the message for boys that they aren’t cool enough. These lies advertisers tell, play on the fears that kids already have, leading to an increase in depression and anxiety. If you repeatedly tell children they have something to worry about, they will begin to believe you.

Teaching Kids About Truth In Advertising

Kids—like adults—need to understand that advertising should not be taken at face value. It is the consumer’s responsibility to test for truth in advertising by asking questions. A good “truth test” for merchandising is made up of two questions: “What is the Product? What is the Promise?”

In asking these two questions when considering purchases, both adults and children will begin to see that the promises made by marketers are often unrelated to the actual products they are trying to sell, or are at least, unrealistic. Furthermore, the false claims about products tend to exploit the consumer’s biggest fears.


As with any other form of bullying parents should take an active role and not assume that things will automatically work out for the best. There are many ways to help teach children about the effects of advertising:

  • When in front of a screen – whether it is the television, the computer, or at the movies – discuss commercials and ads with children. Once the Product and Promise test has been done, ask your child why he or she thinks that the advertising company put the commercial where kids can easily see it.
  • When shopping – it is easy for children to get caught up in window shopping and plead with parents to purchase whatever it is they see. This is an excellent time to remind them that retail stores purposely place items at a child’s rather than an adult’s eye-level, so that children will nag their parents to purchase these items.
  • When kids ask for things – make an inventory of needs versus wants. Aside from air, water, food, safety, shelter, and clothing, there are very few items that humans actually need for survival. Help kids determine if what they are asking for is something they want or something they need. Explore together the reason they want this particular item.
  • When kids complain – practice gratitude with kids to help remind all of us how much we already have and to help us realize that there is only so much we can consume.

When faced with the truth, fear loses its hold. Our children deserve to know that nobody is allowed to bully them into buying things. They deserve the right to make wise consumer decisions without being manipulated by subtle and not-so-subtle advertising campaigns. With a parent’s guidance, our children can learn to make the distinction between what they actually need and want and what the advertisers tell them they need and want.

And that’s a good thing.

Safe Opportunities To Let Your Child Fail And Learn

Parenting is a long-term proposition during which we need to essentially work ourselves out of a job. Part of a child’s development is to learn how to be independent, to make choices, and to think for himself. Allowing children to fail in a controlled environment minimizes the risk, but also helps them to learn valuable lessons and skills that will last a lifetime.

 The Value of Making Mistakes

Making mistakes makes us uncomfortable. Fortunately, it is through discomfort that both children and adults do their best learning. Take a child faced with a simple math problem – 7 x 6 = ? The child answers “36” and gets the answer wrong, but then has the opportunity to learn so much more than what can be seen on the surface.

Children learn not only the answer to the simple math problem—that 7 x 6 is 42—but also gain meaningful life lessons through making mistakes. These lessons could include the value of memorization or different ways to internalize information, how to persevere, how to solve problems, how to take instruction, and the limits of a personal frustration threshold.

These are all important lessons for kids to learn as they grow and develop over the course of childhood and adolescence. And if all of these valuable lessons can be learned through one simple math problem, imagine what can be internalized through more layered and complicated problems or opportunities to fail.

The Value of Facing Natural Consequences

Like the math problem, children can learn many nuances of natural consequences through simple choices. One popular choice for kids is whether or not to wear a coat. Granted, this is a safer choice to offer kids in the fall or spring, when temperatures are not so extreme as to be unsafe but during which children will still feel discomfort.

rain boots for children

If a child does not wear a coat, he or she may end up cold. Still following? Maybe he forgot or maybe he decided in all his nine years of wisdom he’s surpassed the human need for warmth.  Either way, there are valuable lessons to be learned.   How to think ahead, plan for the future, gauge the weather and remember a routine before leaving the house.

All of these life skills are valuable, especially when acquired as a result of children’s own choices and experiences.  A cold child is less likely to leave the house without a coat again.

Parents Teach Either Responsibility or Helplessness

The transition between elementary school and junior high is tough for both parents and children, especially when it comes to completing and turning in classwork and homework. No longer part of a classroom community of thirty or so children, an adolescent becomes one of hundreds of kids in several classes throughout the day.  Add in some extra-curricular activities and it becomes increasingly difficult for adolescents to balance core responsibilities, like keeping up their grades.

After receiving a report card with Cs, Ds, or Fs, parents may rush to the teachers to defend their teens, placing the blame anywhere besides their children. They may request that teachers change grades or blame the school for work that is “too difficult.” This is all part of overprotective parenting that is harmful to children as they grow and develop.

Overprotective parenting sends the message that “I don’t trust you to make good decisions or learn for yourself, so I’m going to do that for you.” Granted, this message is most likely unintentional, but it still has far-reaching consequences. In her article Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail, teacher Jessica Lahey describes, “…parents who raise their children in a state of helplessness and powerlessness, children destined to an anxious adulthood, lacking the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure.”

In addition, adolescents whose parents step in to help them too often remain in a state of arrested development, reinforcing the developmental tendency to blame everyone else for their problems.  While this developmental marker is common in adolescence, teens are not intended to stay there, and it is up to parents to help them move past this stage. There are far-reaching consequences for our children’s futures—including the inability to pay their bills on time and maintain a good credit score, get and keep a job, solve conflicts with others, and navigate messy relationships—if we don’t encourage them to take control and grow independently, solving their own problems.

Safe Ways to Let Children Fail

There are many ways that parents can allow their kids to fail and learn valuable life lessons and skills. Grades, for example, serve as an excellent measure of success and failure within the safety of the home environment. If a child or teen is not doing homework, parents can work with teachers and determine natural consequences that will motivate children to change that behavior.

If grades have fallen, parents can punish their kids and petition for a diplomatic solution with the school.  They can also step back, leaving kids the responsibility of bringing those grades up, whether that means completing extra credit work or staying after school for a while.

As kids grow into adolescence, higher-stakes risks can be safely taken. Parents can open bank accounts with their teens, providing allowances and education about how to manage finances. Teens will quickly learn what it means to overdraw an account and be responsible for resulting fees and additional natural consequences. Valuable lessons like this one are better for adolescents to learn early in life, while the stakes are relatively low.

college graduation, proud parents, mortarboard

Giving children of all ages opportunities to fail allows them to learn valuable lessons that will last them well into adulthood.  Such lessons encourage the development of essential life skills, like independence and responsibility, and give parents the gift of working themselves out of a job; that is to say, the freedom of independence from parenting, as children learn to stand on their own two feet.

How You Can Ease Your Teen into Using a Smartphone

After having used a smartphone for a few years, it’s hard for me to remember what life was like without instant access to this technology. As I raise my tween boy – now 12 years old and in junior high – it can be difficult to remember what my childhood was like without carrying around a cell phone as he does now at his age.

My tween has just started using a cell phone: a temporary prepaid phone with no bells and whistles. Providing him with this simple technology has increased our communication and provided him with a new “cool factor” among his tween friends. Even though none of his friends use smartphones at this point, that eventuality is approaching quickly. Here’s how to be ready to transition your tween into smartphone use.

With Privilege Comes Responsibility

Your tween needs to understand that having access to a smartphone is a privilege that needs to be taken seriously. And as Uncle Ben (and Voltaire before him) famously explained to us, with great privilege comes great responsibility. Tweens need to show that they are ready for the responsibility and the privilege of using a smartphone.

tweens, chores, using a smartphone

Ways that your tween can demonstrate responsibility include:

  • Keeping up on homework. My tween didn’t have a hard time doing homework, but he was majorly challenged when it came to actually turning in the completed work. Responsibility is both doing the work and turning it in on time. This will be reflected in their grades each quarter.
  • Completing assigned chores consistently. Each member of our household has certain chores that he or she is responsible for on specific days. Following the chore list is an important skill and shows responsibility.
  • Logging those completed chores consistently. We use a free program called My Job Chart to both assign consistent chores and log whether those chores have been completed. Kids can earn points for doing chores that can translate into customized rewards, including allowance or smartphone use.

Let your tween know that once he or she shows consistently responsibility, the additional privilege of smartphone use will be rewarded.

Monitor Your Tweens Use of Electronic Devices

tween smartphone, using a smartphone

Regardless of what electronic devices your tween is using, he or she needs to be closely monitored. Charge the devices in your room at the end of the day and then go through them, looking at web activity, texts, and social media interactions.

To get alerts regarding your tween’s online actions, install a program like Qustodio. This software allows parents to monitor all online activity, including social media and web browsing. This program also has time limits for internet access and helps keep kids safe online. Plus, it lets you know whether or not your tween is being responsible online.

Give Tweens a Cell Phone to Use

tweens, cellphone use, using a smartphone

Handing over a smartphone to a tween requires an enormous amount of trust. Let your tween show that he or she is worthy of that trust by starting off with a basic, no frills cell phone to use. This cell phone is not a smartphone, which means that your tween will be able to talk and text without worrying about web or social media activity.

This simple step will ease you both into the idea of your tween using this kind of technology, giving him or her a chance to show trustworthiness and giving you less to monitor right off the bat.

Create a Smartphone Agreement

A written smartphone agreement is an important way to lay out your expectations for your tween’s smartphone usage. While there are templates online, some ideas for your agreement can include:

  • Who buys the smartphone and who pays for the usage
  • Whether or not the phone goes to school
  • What times of the day your tween is allowed to use the phone
  • Appropriate online behavior, discussing at length cyberbullying, photos, videos, and dangers of contact with people you don’t know
  • What monitoring software will be on the smartphone, and that this is non-negotiable
  • The smartphone can be taken away as a consequence of behavior changes
  • What happens if the smartphone gets lost or broken

Using A Smartphone

Using a smartphone is a privilege that requires a great amount of trust and responsibility. Help your tween transition into using a smartphone so that you can both be ready for this big developmental shift.