Saturday, January 28, 2017

Culture Clash with Our Consumer Teens.

As Dan was supervising snack time in the teen space at the library, he was approached by a teen with potato chip breath.

Teen: You get paid to work at the library? How is that possible? What do you sell at the library? You don't sell anything at the library.

This kid couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea that a service that didn’t make a profit had any value.

I’ve heard similar sentiments from my own jobless teen. He has openly expressed his contempt for Dan wasting time working at the library and volunteering for Code for Tucson or Watershed Management Group – when he could be out making real money as an engineer. That money, of course, could go towards a car to drive him to his weekly Magic tournaments so he won’t be forced to endure our sustainable form of transportation (gasp!) - the city bus.

I’m beginning to think that this is a thing - or so I gleaned from a conversation I had with a couple of teenage boys at the Women’s March in Tucson. These cavalier young men felt comfortable in this mass of mothers to boldly hold up signs that read, “Build the Wall” and “Gays for Trump.” The little dickens got what they asked for when they got schooled (or in teen speak, nagged) by somebody’s mother, namely me. I asked them if they cared about the environment at all. They shrugged, “No.” When I asked them why they supported Trump, their unequivocal answer was “more jobs to pay for new cellphones and Xboxes.” (Dan said that there was a group of teens following them laughing, so they may have just been trying to get a rise out of us. Well, they got it!)

Listening to teens with Trump signs at the Women's March in Tucson.

What’s with the youth today? Why doesn’t our son share our values about giving back to the community and living more sustainably? These teens have literally bought into their role as consumers in our capitalistic society. But haven’t we, as a country, been programmed to value the pursuit of profit above all else – even profit without accountability? While Dan and I have pledged to boycott Walmart because they exploit child labor abroad and don't pay their U.S. workers a living wage, our local Walmart just expanded.

What are we really getting out of our “profit first” consumerism? Are we even getting a good value?

Let’s look at some things our American teens consume...


Americans spend billions on the latest clothing fads. What do we get for our money? Disposable clothes designed to fall apart after a few washes, probably sewn in a foreign sweat shop, possibly by child slaves. Poisons from the dyes are dumped into our waterways. After a few months, these clothes are good for nothing but rags or to take up space in a landfill. I may be showing my age, but sometimes I get a yen for the good ol’ days when you could buy classic, quality clothes that would be worth repairing.

Bottled Drinks:

Look around at the store. We have shelves full of every kind of drink you can imagine. Yummy! But to get the plastic to make all those bottles, oil is pumped miles and miles through leaky pipelines. Oh, you drink water? How much do we really pay for that 89 cent bottle of water? Nestle is taking water that has been pumped 322 miles uphill (a whole coal-fired power plant was built to power the pumps that has already used up all the water in the Hopi and Navajo’s aquifer). All of those bottles then become a part of five massive plastic “islands” in the ocean. 


In America, we can get any food we want, when we want it! But really…how fresh and healthy is our food? To have a longer shelf life, our food is filled with chemicals and preservatives. To improve the flavor they add addictive sugar to everything. (But at least that has spawned the diet industry...) Even our produce is transported from neighboring states, Mexico, or shipped across the ocean putting CO2 and other toxins in the air. Rain-forests are cleared to raise beef cattle. We Americans just love our weekly specials. But what is the human cost of those bargains? The people who harvest our foods live in squalor and can’t even afford the foods they pick. (For just one cent more per pound, the pickers could double their income to a living wage.) Meanwhile, millions of tons of food is thrown into landfills because it is damaged, unattractive or there is just too much of it (lowering profit.) Luckily, there are some good people working on preventing food waste

Fast Food:

Every parent laments how much junk food their teen consumes. But fast food fits perfectly into our busy lives. At home it’s frozen convenience items (about as flavorful as the disposable boxes they come in.) It may be cheap, but you get very little actual nutrition for your money. Fast food restaurants do supply two or three low paying jobs for each of their underpaid workers. To maximize profit, companies fight a raise in the minimum wage. But fast food does contribute to heart disease and diabetes – creating higher paying healthcare jobs. Unfortunately, minimum wage workers can’t afford healthcare insurance. This means choosing between bringing their kid to the doctor or having dinner. If it's a real medical emergency, there will be no money left for their mortgage payments. We can step over them on the street - where they have no value in this society since they are no longer consumers.

So what do I say to our consumer teens?

We may not have all the latest gadgets, the biggest screen TV or even a car. But we are blessed to have a comfortable little house. Dan’s library job leaves him time for his passions: teaching robotics and computer programming, building community, and getting outside to enjoy our beautiful desert landscape while installing rainwater harvesting features. It actually makes us feel good (gasp!) to carry our own delicious drinks in our cool reusable water bottles - knowing we aren’t adding to the plastic island. We enjoy treasure hunting for quirky clothes at the thrift store. Tending our little garden and cycling to work gives us a chance to enjoy our beautiful Tucson weather. And nothing beats the excitement of seeing our little rainwater harvesting projects working!

Even my teens can appreciate the yummy home cooked meals and fresh baked bread that Dan has time to make - not to mention the time he has to spend with them.

And just look at these smiles... Aren't they worth it? 

No comments:

Post a Comment