Teens may hold a buying power of $44 billion, but they’re actually buying less, and they’re one of the most responsible out of all age groups. This goes against what most people imagine about teenagers, and psychologists say that this anti-consumerism trend plays a major role in their wellbeing.
Tim Kasser, who is a member of the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, who has been studying the effects of hypercapitalism and excessive materialistic values on young minds for over 25 years, points out that being drawn into consumer culture from an early age has four negative effects on personal and emotional development:
- Excessive buying affects one’s sense of wellbeing. Studies have shown that materialism causes anxiety, low self-esteem and may lead to depression. What’s more, the satisfaction of buying something is short-lived. In the long run, it lowers satisfaction and may lead to cigarette and alcohol consumption.
- Materialism may reduce empathy.
- Excessive consumption drowns out sustainable values, making people more prone to waste.
- An excessively materialistic mindset has been linked to lower academic performance.
So how did Gen Z manage to distance themselves from materialism and become adepts of a more mindful form of shopping? It comes down to a plethora of social and cultural factors, experts say, but the biggest role was held by the increased awareness of sustainability issues. To add to that, there is a growing sense of fatigue surrounding digital influencers who are constantly promoting something.
From YouTube consumerism to the anti-haul
YouTube’s beauty and fashion communities, which are some of the biggest drivers for teen purchases, look nothing like they did three to four years ago. In 2017-2018, hauls (a type of YouTube video where influencers show all the stuff they bought on camera) ruled YouTube, along with makeup collection and favorites videos and “Come shopping with me” type vlogs. As entertaining and useful as some of those videos may have been to watch, they are linked to serious effects on teens’ mental health. When consuming these types of videos every day, many children and teenagers started to develop FOMO (fear of missing out) and were led to believe that they needed to own boxes of makeup to stay relevant and be happy. And it wasn’t just makeup and clothes. Many child YouTubers made millions by reviewing toys and showing what they got for their birthday. And even though the influencers disclosed what products were given to them for free by brands, small watchers do not have the notion of persuasive intent.
Following a wave of backlash from parents and mental health experts, the tide began to turn. Slowly, the popularity of haul videos started to drop, as people became concerned with the environmental effects of product hoarding. Now, the YouTubers who would upload mostly product videos a few years ago have reduced the frequency of those videos and are now posting more lifestyle-oriented content. What’s more, many YouTubers now promote the anti-haul: products they wouldn’t buy because they’re expensive, overrate, or they simply don’t need it. On a similar note, decluttering and capsule wardrobe videos are also trending.
Smartphones take over as teens’ favorite purchases.
If Gen Z can live without makeup, for tech, it’s a whole different story. Today’s youth are digital natives. They were born at a time when smartphones and the Internet were already mainstream, and they don’t see them as an extra, but as something normal they cannot live without. This attitude has its ups and downs. On the one hand, we’re seeing kids use their iPhones (which is the preferred smartphone brand among teens) creatively. The “generation that lives online,” as it was promoted in Billie Eilish’s viral Telekom commercial, isn’t disconnected from the real world and uses their phones to educate themselves, engage in activism, and start their own businesses. For them, smartphones are essential means of self-expression and enable them to create great things. At the same time, it’s the constant use of technology that has helped teens more capable of separating advertising from reality and helped them understand which brands have a message worth supporting. It’s because they’re constantly on their phones that teens are able to interact with brands, hold them accountable, and spot unfounded hype.
On the other hand, technology also has a darker side. Studies have shown that the widespread use of smartphones forces teens to crow in a culture of multitasking, which can be detrimental to their mental health. Also, there’s a constant pressure to fit in and use what everyone else is using—namely, the iPhone. About 85% of teens are iPhone owners, and the iPhone culture is so strong that those who don’t have them are excluded. For example, a Business Insider investigation revealed how teens are left out of group chats if they have other phones.
Pre-loved clothes are the new cool.
The anti-consumerist trend is also making its way into fashion. After a culture of fast-fashion which lasted for almost a decade, and which led consumers to think of clothes as nearly disposable items that weren’t meant to last more than one season, we’re now witnessing a change in mentality. Teens are shopping less, and from brands that have a strong social and environmental message. Contrary to popular belief, for today’s teenagers, fashion is less about trying to fit in and more about expressing their identity. As a result, they don’t care so much about what’s trending, but about the brand’s mission statement and how it aligns with their personal view of the world.
Lastly, the stigma surrounding second-hand clothing has all but disappeared. Not only is it acceptable to wear pre-loved clothing, but also highly encouraged. Because teens are placing sustainability on the top spot when shopping for clothes, the second-hand clothing market is expected to surpass the luxury clothing one for the first time in 2022.