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MAROSEK: Get educated and avoid being misled

My children think I’m cheap because I’m reluctant to spend my money on expensive brand name items or the latest gadget, to which I say, I’m being careful — with my money and my decisions.

I bet other teenagers feel the same about their parents. Besides, they don’t have a problem spending because first, it’s probably not their money, second, they are easily influenced, uninformed and lack discipline. This will either get them in trouble or fooled. Come to think of it, all of us may have the same challenges.

We are being influenced constantly, everywhere we go stores shelve thousands of products, billboards align roadsides and radios blare obnoxious blowout sales. Banners at the kids’ baseball fields, emblems on trucks, and flashing neon signs all reach out for our attention. Even in my home I’m being sold to. My computer receives pop-up ads, and television airs three two-minute commercial breaks for each 30-minute show, which means on average, approximately every eight minutes a business is trying get me to buy something.

Some of these products and services are created to provide a “need” and desire that we didn’t know we have. My van came with a remote control that enables me to slide the door open for the kids, and close the heavy trunk with a push of a button. I have become dependent on my cellphone to the point that I’m unable to recall but a few phone numbers, and practically have a heart attack when I misplace it. Gee, the convenience has become a necessity, possibly even an addiction.

Trying to resist the temptation is difficult; however, it is even more challenging when we and our children are faced with the manipulating ads and misleading messages: the mannequin made to look perfect with the dress strategically pinned from the backside, the flawless photoshopped burger painted perfectly with bright red tomatoes and refreshing green lettuce, and the bait- and- switch advertising scheme lures consumers to the store only to have “sold out” of that item. Other tactics such as scarcity (limited time only), “expert” opinion (doctors recommended), the use of colors (white denotes cleanliness), lighting (soft candle light), language (“signature dish”), and many others are employed to persuade us. How can we resist and teach our children to not be bamboozled out of our hard earned money?

According to Teen Research Limited, a youth marketing research company, teenagers spend on average $103 per week, which amounts to more than $5,000 annually on clothing, food, music, movies and video games, where 33 percent is on clothing and fashion related items, and 21 percent on food. Sadly, the clothes are trendy and thus short-lived, but more appalling, the food they eat may be empty calories, and possibly harmful.

Further, not only are we bombarded with products and services that promise to beautify us, comfort us, fill our needs, save us time and provide entertainment, but we are also inundated with messages to support causes, and ideas from other entities such as nonprofit organizations and political groups. Even churches attract us to come to their congregations. This is the way of our world.

Everyone is trying to influence us; some would outright lie. Understandably, to protect children, some parents advocate passing laws and regulations. While this is sensible, I believe the most effective way is to empower them by teaching them to be informed and think critically.

Our children must learn to make decisions based on facts, not emotions, which in most cases, are explicitly used to influence and persuade. Strong emotions bring about excitement, increase our vulnerability, hinder our ability to think clearly, and ultimately cause us to act. Examples of how emotions are being used are guilt and compassion — give, someone is suffering; joy — buy, you will be happier; fear — get it fixed before it breaks; anger — act quickly before it is too late; greed — sign now or no deal, and many other sentiments.

It may be frustrating and costly to be scammed into making an unnecessary purchase, but more frightening is when we and our children are manipulated, misled and proselytized. Let’s educate them to be informed and careful with every decision.

Van Marosek lives in Lawrenceville with her family. Email her at Jimvanny@gmail.com.