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Raising Minimalist Teenagers in an Age of Consumerism

Written by Joshua Becker   
Friday, 01 March 2013 00:00

“We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.” –Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

Four years ago, my family sold, donated or discarded most of our material possessions. It was a decision based on discontent with our current lives. We were tired of living paycheck to paycheck, never able to get ahead with our finances. And we were growing weary of all the time, energy and effort that our possessions were draining from us. We realized we had far too few resources left over for the things most important to us.

Since embarking on this life-giving journey, we have found this lifestyle resonates effectively with young adults, parents and older generations. But one of our greatest passions is to also inspire teenagers to build a better life by owning less.

For the last 14 years, I have given my life to teenagers through my full-time employment at nonprofit organizations around the country. I have developed relationships with hundreds of teens. I have spoken at public schools and student conferences. I have written books for teenagers. In short, I love the opportunity to invest in their lives and introduce them to a better way to live.

There are, of course, significant challenges in reaching teenagers with the message of simplicity:

The world around them grows increasingly materialistic. Teenagers value acceptance and conformity with their peers.

Advertisers target their message to the young adult demographic.


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Teenagers are beginning to explore their own decision-making. As a result, they are less likely to value input from others…particularly their parents.

The challenges are certainly formidable. But we find great motivation by also recognizing the benefits of reaching teenagers with this message:

Many of their significant decisions are still ahead of them. The message of simplicity helps equip them to make wise ones.

They are not in debt…yet. As a result, they are not held captive under the weight of creditors (especially for housing, cars and student loans).

Their spending habits are not yet formed. They are definitely being shaped, but are not yet fully determined.

We must recognize the challenges before us. But we also understand the importance of sparing our teenagers from decades of financial burden and empty promises of fulfillment. We recognize an important opportunity to inspire our teenagers to pursue lives of greater value.

As parents, mentors and community members, consider these 10 helpful tips for raising minimalist teenagers in an age of consumerism:

  1. Model simplicity. The cliché rings true, “Life lessons are better caught than taught.” The first (and most important) step in raising minimalist teenagers is to model for them the joys and benefits of intentionally living with less.

  2. Encourage idealism. Many teenagers embrace idealism and desire to find a cause that can change the world. But far too often, teenage idealism is misunderstood or discouraged. It ought to be encouraged. Allow children of all ages to dream bigger dreams than cozy homes, cool cars and white picket fences.

  3. Volunteer as a family. Be active in offering your time in the community through a local food bank, soup kitchen or community organization that serves the underprivileged in your area.

  4. Watch less television. It’s not as hard as you think…and has immediate results.

  5. Make teens pay for expensive items themselves. Every parent ought to provide food, clothing, shelter and basic necessities. And every parent should give good gifts to their kids, too. But asking your teenager to purchase expensive items with their own money will create a stronger sense of ownership and a better understanding of the relationship between work, money and consumerism.

  6. Encourage teenagers to recognize the underlying messages in advertising. Advertisements are not going away and can never be completely avoided. Help your child read behind the marketing message by often asking, “What are they really trying to sell you with this advertisement? Do you think that product will deliver on its promise?” If luck is in your favor, it can even become a fun little game in your family.

  7. Find an ally. By the time your children have reached the teenage years, your role as a parent has changed significantly. In most families, teenagers are beginning to express independence in their relationships with their parents…but that doesn’t mean they’ll never listen. Find an accompanying voice in your community that subscribes to your values and provide opportunities for him or her to speak with your teen.

  8. Discourage entitlement in your family. Often, as parents, we work hard to ensure a significant advantage for our children by providing for them at all costs. But as we do, we equally run the risk of not preparing them for life by neglecting to teach them the truths of responsibility. It is hard work maintaining the possessions of life (lawns have to be mowed, cars cleaned and maintained, laundry sorted, rooms tidied). Expose teenagers to this truth as early (and as often) as possible.

  9. Travel to less-developed countries. This world is big and the cultures are varied. Some of the most teachable moments of my teenage years occurred while visiting third-world countries and experiencing the living conditions of those who live on so little (an estimated 6 billion people live on less than $13,000/year). Their joy and peace has served as an inspiration to me, even to this day.

  10. Teach them what matters most is not what they own, but who they are. A man or woman of noble character holds a far greater asset than those who have traded it for material possessions. Believe this truth. Live this truth. And remind the teenagers in your life of it as often as possible.

    Our world has chased happiness, joy and fulfillment in the pursuit of riches and possessions for far too long. It is time we intentionally seek to raise a generation that values greater things.


Pathways Issue 37 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #37.

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