A new study shows many children to be ethical consumers with more selfless attitudes than their parents.
Southern Cross University researcher Kate Neale will this week be awarded her Doctor of Philosophy for her PhD thesis Children and Ethical Consumption, which examined the ways children learn about and practise ethical consumption.
Ms Neale interviewed children between the ages of 8 and 12, and their parents, in Brisbane, Sydney, and across the North Coast.
She said the children and adults often had different ethical priorities.
“Parents were very concerned about the health and wellbeing of their family, but children took a much more altruistic perspective about being helpful and kind,” Ms Neale said.
“The children were concerned about looking after the welfare of animals, and they were also really concerned about the working conditions of overseas workers in factories.
“I was surprised that kids knew so much about the welfare of animals, factory farming, and overseas working conditions, and I was a little bit surprised that parents were as conscious about their health and wellbeing but weren’t really thinking about translating that into ethical consumption.”
Children Deserve Credit
Ms Neale said, overall, the children were much more aware of global issues than some adults gave them credit for.
“Kids are seen as impulsive and irrational, the nagging kid at the checkout is a pretty common thing that we think of when we talk about kids as consumers,” she said.
“I did my research around the time of when there was a massive factory collapse in India and the kids were really aware of this issue and that was something they were really concerned about.
“Interestingly, when I spoke to those parents those particular issues were the ones they thought they needed to protect their children from — that they were too shocking, age-inappropriate, or big ticket concepts that kids wouldn’t be able to get their heads around.
“Yet I had those children telling me they had those concerns.”
Parents Being Influenced
Ms Neale said the consumer behaviour of some parents was also being influenced by their children’s ethics.
“In some instances, kids were coming home and saying ‘I learnt about palm oil cultivation, or we learnt about fair trade’,” she said.
“When one boy was purchasing chocolate he said he always looked to make sure it was palm oil free, and he wanted to make sure products his mum bought when she was shopping were palm oil free.
“When I spoke to that mum, she said that was the first time she had heard about that issue, so her son had socialised her in understanding this ethical dimension.”
Ms Neale said the children’s views were shaped through direct conversations at school and at home, as well as through osmosis where children “soaked up” information through the media or their peers.
“Socialisation happens everywhere, kids learn through school, home, through the marketplace, media, peers, grandparents,” she said.
“Children aren’t homogenous, they’re from various socio-economic backgrounds, education levels, parents’ interests, so I’m not trying to say the research covered every child.
“Children’s experiences with consumption is very different. What our children get to enjoy as toys, unfortunately there are children around the world actually making those.”
Ms Neale said she hoped her study would inspire further research in the field.
“Children are consumers in today’s market, they’re wanting to purchase their own products, they’re getting pocket money or some disposable income, but they also influence a lot of parents’ purchasing decisions,” she said.
“They’re also consumers of tomorrow, so it’s really important for us to understand how they’re being socialised as consumers because that will give us an idea of what sort of adult consumers they’ll be.”
Source: ABC News