Commercials, kids, and materialism

A new Toyota Highlander ad features a demanding (and rude) kid, shallow values, and poor financial planning.

Photo illustration / Darren Greenwood / Design Pics / Newscom
It's really never too soon to start talking to your kids about how to make sound financial decisions. They might not understand it all at first, but like hand-me-downs, they'll grow into them.

Right off the bat, let’s take a peek at this “wonderful” new commercial by Toyota:

I was pointed to this ad by longtime reader Beth and the AutoAdOpolis blog.

If you’ve been reading The Simple Dollar for long, you’ll know that this ad takes a swing directly at a lot of different ideas I’ve shared over the years about parenting, money, materialism, and other things. I thought I’d run through them again in light of this ad.

First of all, if you’re a parent, your kids shouldn’t have any influence over your buying decisions. This commercial only really works if you believe that your kids should have any significant input over what automobile you purchase. If you’re letting your child have that much power, particularly in an effort to not seem “lame” to them, you’re abandoning your ability to actually be a parent to them.

Buying a car really can be a teachable moment. You should absolutely discuss why you’re buying a car and what your buying criteria are. However, what a child thinks of as a great criteria for a car (it’s shiny! it’s got a DVD player!) should have little or no direct bearing on that purchase.

At the same time, why is the father washing the car all alone out in the driveway while the kid is sitting inside alone? My kids – even my three year old – would have been out there washing the car with me. Why? That type of thing is the perfect opportunity to build a positive relationship with your child, the kind that fosters long-term trust and rapport.

I can understand parents and children both needing some solitary time. A child sitting alone inside while a parent is outside washing a car, though, is a perfect family time.

This, of course, might point to why the kid thinks his parents are “lame” – he doesn’t have a deep relationship with them.

The child also has no idea why their family has an older minivan or why that has value. Obviously, the family is saving money on a vehicle here – no payments, low insurance cost, and so on. That vehicle is obviously going to last for a long while because it’s being maintained.

That has value. That’s $500 a month that isn’t going towards payments on an expensive new car, let alone the insurance.

There’s no reason not to spell that out for your kids. The inherent value in buying and owning used things is because, quite often, their purchase price and maintenance costs are lower. That means you have money for other things, like a family vacation or the house you’re living in.

Yes, children won’t be able to fully understand that, but they should at least be aware of it so that such ideas are like an oversized glove that they will eventually grow into.

One last thought: if my child had a routine habit of calling the things we did “dorkiness,” referring to us as the “Geek family,” or directly calling his parents names, that child wouldn’t be headed out for a fun afternoon with his friends.

There are a lot of things you can’t control in life: your income level, the bad things that befall you, the financial largesse of the people around you, and so on. However, you can control your day-to-day choices, and among them is how involved you want to be as a parent and how involved you want to be in parenting your child (and parenting doesn’t mean “being their pal”).

Good parenting means teaching them not only how to behave, but how to be responsible and sensible with their money and time.

Some might say that I’m thinking too much about this commercial. However, the commercial is just loaded with things that would point a family away from good financial planning and parenting and towards some pretty awful choices. When such things are considered par for the course on television, there’s no wonder that some people consider it to simply be the way things are.

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