Teaching Kids the Importance of Ethical Shopping
“Mama, did a person make this coffee table?” asked my six-year-old son.
“Yes, my friend Sarah made it,” I answered.
“You know the person who made this?!” His blue eyes got really wide.
“Yeah, she’s a friend of mine from college,” I told him. “She took a woodworking class and made that table.”
My son buzzed around the room, excited at having just discovered a new game of Who Made This?!
I had some impressive answers for him like, “Auntie Beth made that wall hanging” and “An artist named Robert Gray painted that picture.” But all too soon my answers got vague: “That’s from Target and that’s from Home Goods.”
“But who made it?” he insisted.
I looked at him blankly.
“I guess it doesn’t matter,” my son shrugged as he skipped off to his next endeavor.
I watched him leave the room. No, but it does matter. My kids needed to know that it mattered to make socially conscious purchases.
At that moment I felt like a detective asking the important questions: who, what, where, etc. To teach my kids that all purchases matter, I needed to help them answer Who, What, and How Much.
Who: Objects Are Connected to People
The thing that struck my son was learning that objects in our life were connected to people, some whom we knew but mostly whom we didn’t know. Making that connection between product and person was key, not just for my children but also for me. Think about how every time you see or use a gift someone gave you, you automatically think about the person who gave it to you. The object comes to mean something to you because of the person who gave it.
As a Noonday Ambassador, I have the privilege of representing real people and their handcrafted objects. My collection of Noonday items was the perfect catalyst for teaching my kids about socially conscious purchasing.
I showed them the Calypso Earrings I wore made from water buffalo horn. I told them about Lanh, an Artisan in Vietnam, and how she learned the art of carving water buffalo horns from her ancestors. By partnering with Noonday, she was able to sustain a business selling her jewelry. She no longer has to work long hours growing rice and worry about whether or not she will have income. She not only can support her family, but she sustains other families by employing them.
As I showed my kids beautiful jewelry and told them about the people who made them, the connection between product and person was formed. My kids were interested. My kids cared. My kids knew it mattered to know whom we bought our things from because our purchases have the power to do good. Our purchases have the power to change lives for the better, just like Lanh’s.
What: Waste Not Want Not
Socially conscious purchasing not only cares about whom we buy things from, but it also cares about what we buy. Now, we all like new things, including my kids, but I’m teaching my kids the importance of recycling, particularly with purchases.
Recently my ten year old needed some athletic shorts and T-shirts. I told him we’d check our local Goodwill.
“Why, Mom?” he asked more out of curiosity than indignation. “We can afford new stuff.”
But that’s not the point. Sure, thrifting can save me money, but more importantly thrifting is a way to make socially conscious purchases. I want us to be thoughtful and not impulsive consumers.
Again, I went to my Noonday items as an example of repurposing. I told them about the artillery shell pearl bracelets from Ethiopia (my boys found these especially cool). While they slipped them on their small wrists and felt the weight of the pearls, I told them about Ethiopia and how it had seen so many wars. As a result, the most plentiful resource there was artillery shells. I told them about Eden’s business (one of Noonday’s Artisan Business Partners) of taking these shells and repurposing them into jewelry.
Teaching my kids that buying brand new doesn’t have to be our first go-to also teaches them to be aware of what they are purchasing, which matters as much as who they are purchasing from. Rather than add more to the waste, we can reuse it to limit waste.
How Much: You Can’t Take It with You
When my son had his first sleepover at his cousin’s house, he wanted to pack all his earthly possessions into his backpack for one night. I quickly intervened and helped him figure out exactly what he needed. As I pulled out a second pair of pajamas and the fourth stuffed animal, he protested, “But Mom, I might need them!”
“You won’t,” I assured him. “This is too much stuff. You won’t be able to keep track of it all.”
The same applies to purchasing, as I am always telling myself and my kids. Socially conscious purchasing is aware of how much we purchase. Now, there is nothing wrong with being prepared, but it’s important to ask my kids the hard questions: do you need all three of those? Will you actually use both of these?
By honestly answering these questions, my kids are learning to discern between need and want. This in turn prevents them from over-consuming, which changes their mindset from one of self-centeredness to one of social conscientiousness.
Caught, Not Always Taught
There is a belief that more often than not things are caught and not taught, meaning our kids mimic what they see us do rather than what we teach them to do. While I think it’s very important to teach my kids about socially conscious purchasing, I am also challenged to lead by example in our everyday lives. We still buy toilet paper at Target and order art supplies on Amazon, but we do put more thought into who we are buying from, what we are buying, and how much. Are we buying from people who provide fair wages and dignified working conditions for their employees? Are we buying items that use natural or indigenous materials to cut down on waste? Are we buying for our needs and not just our wants to limit materialism?
We may not answer yes to those questions with every single purchase, but now my kids know which questions to ask. Now my kids know our purchases do matter. And this mama heart does feel proud when I hear my son tell someone, “My mom’s necklace is from Kenya and that purchase helped Anne (one of Noonday’s Artisan Business Partners) feed her family.”
Meet Farah Shaw
Farah is a homeschooling mom of four, long-time Noonday customer turned Ambassador, and children’s author. Follow her on Instagram @authorfcshaw.