If you are a woman who grew up in the Valley in the ’70s, you probably owned Dittos jeans. They came in blue, of course, but they were also sold in a slew of bright colors that changed with every season. Dittos then were not just jeans, they were social currency. The “it” girls owned Dittos in every color. The girls without Dittos were either from a family who could not afford them or were the type who might say: “I wish we had more science homework.”
Looking back, I probably owned three or four pairs at any given time — just enough to keep me from being a complete social outcast, but not enough to compete with the “it” girls.
Every generation has their Dittos. For today’s preteen and teen boys, it is customized shoes and T-shirts by Obey and Diamond Supply Co. Girls wear the latest from Brandy Melville or Urban Outfitters.
In an ideal world, parents would dress their kids in Target’s finest and then use the savings to defray a month or two of college. Instead, we succumb to buying our kids the brands they want because we remember how Dittos made us feel when we were their age.
Enabling superficiality — and if you consider the prices for Obey and Diamond Supply T-shirts, there is no doubt that you are only paying for a label — is a bad idea. Dr. Phil states the obvious when he directs us to, “Make sure your children aren’t defining their happiness and their status in the world as a function of what they wear or drive. Sit down with them, and have a one-on-one conversation about what really defines their worth — their intelligence, their creativity, their caring, their giving, their work ethic, etc. If you spent equal time sitting down and talking to them about what really mattered as you do shopping, you might be able to counterbalance the countless images they see telling them otherwise.”
Clearly, Dr. Phil was never a teenager, and now I’m also wondering if he was ever really a parent. Because if he was, he would know that there is no amount of talking that can counter the relentless images teens are exposed to today. Telling them to ignore Twitter, Vine and Instagram bombardment and just contemplate their self-worth would be like telling a soldier in the middle of a battle to “just ignore” the bullets and bombs. Yes, you should make sure your children realize that a label does not define their worth, but you are living in an alternative parenting universe if you think kids want to look significantly different from their peers.
The emphasis on materialism not only seems to be growing exponentially worse, but also seems to be starting younger and younger. In an interview with Oprah, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach weighed in on the topic and blamed the following for the increase in “spoiled children”:
• Wealth: America has become a wealthy country, and now, with more disposable income than ever before, parents can hire nannies, cleaners and gardeners, meaning there is less of a necessity for kids to contribute to families.
• Overindulgence: Parents want to give their kids all the things they didn’t have when they grew up.
• Workaholic society: Many workaholic parents feel guilty and end up giving their children gifts instead of giving them their time.
I confess that I have not handled my own teenagers’ materialistic wish list very well. I don’t buy them everything they want, but I do spend too much. They do not get cars when they turn 16, but let’s just say the last time my son and I left the Nordstrom men’s department, he was carrying three bags and our salesperson was high-fived by her manager.
But I read something recently that made me question my “Hey, if it makes me feel good and makes them feel good, what’s the harm?” attitude about splurging on my kids now and then.
Writer Malcolm Gladwell just released his latest best seller, “David and Goliath.” Gladwell’s forte is upending things we always thought were true — such as it is better to raise children with money than without. He tells the story of a man who grew up in a middle-class home and, through extraordinary efforts, transformed himself into a wealthy Hollywood Goliath. However, his children, who were raised in a mansion and had courtside Lakers seats, didn’t have the mogul’s burning desire to succeed.
While the multimillionaire learned the value of money and the meaning of work the hard way, Gladwell explained, “It would be difficult for his children to learn those same lessons.”
The mogul lamented, “People are ruined by challenged economic lives. But they’re ruined by wealth as well because they lose their pride and they lose their sense of self-worth. It’s difficult at both ends of the spectrum. There’s some place in the middle which probably works best of all.”
So, if the solution isn’t all and it isn’t nothing, what is it? I’m thinking that my mom got it about right: Three or four pairs of Dittos was enough to make sure that I didn’t feel like an outcast, but not enough so that I thought I was something because I had a closet full of jeans. And three bags at Nordstrom? Probably one bag too many.