In This Article Child and Teen Consumption

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Reference Works

Childhood Studies Child and Teen Consumption
by
Inés de La Ville
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0059

Introduction

The theme of “child and teen consumption” represents a field of investigation at the crossroads of different disciplinary approaches, including history, sociology, psychology, political science, anthropology, business, marketing, educational sciences, communication, and computer sciences. The first seminal studies on children and consumption were initiated by cognitive psychologists in the 1950s, in an attempt to contrast adult consumer behavior with children’s consumer behavior. This contributed to the constitution of a specific field of economic psychology focused on “consumer socialization.” Meanwhile, the field of sociology approached the topic of consumer practices as early as the 1960s, whilst the specific field of the “sociology of childhood” began to grow in the 1970s and has since gained its own autonomy. In the field of history, the history of “family bonding” and questions about the importance of children’s role and participation in society were raised and added to the growing debate about children’s rights and their need for protection in a consumer society. Since 2000, studies questioning the concept of childhood and reconceptualizing it have further intersected with a wide range of theoretical positions exploring children’s social practices and behaviors within this multidisciplinary field. As a consequence, there is no unifying theoretical framework integrating all the pertinent and fragmented problematics that have been raised over the last fifty years about the role of children in Western consumer societies. Given the characteristics of this newly emerging field of research, no general overview is available, as there is no encompassing theoretical framework able to put in perspective the topics being dealt with by social scientists or practitioners developing goods and services for children. As a consequence, this field gathers together several works conceptualizing and questioning—through contrasted ideological lenses—children and youth as “empowered” social actors intervening in commercial realms. Another consequence of this still fragmented structure of the field of child and teen consumption is that there are no available anthologies nor scientific journals fully dedicated to the debates provoked by this topic. Moreover, research results produced exclusively from an educational or new media perspective, even though they have a role in the conception of products and marketing discourses, have been excluded when there is no connection with marketing and consumption practices. There are also very few works from southern European countries exploring the link between children and consumption.

Textbooks

The seminal textbooks on children’s consumption have been edited by practitioners and marketing consultants dealing with real practical issues of developing goods and services for children (e.g., McNeal 1987, McNeal 1999, Sutherland and Thompson 2003). This initial conceptualization of children and youth as empowered social actors has been scrutinized from an academic perspective, sometimes as a marginal contribution to a wider approach of consumer behavior—the consumer as a child is one of the ten consumer portraits sketched in Gabriel and Lang 1995—or as the central contribution of the publication—Montigneaux 2002 develops a purely managerial perspective, whereas Tufte, et al. 2005; de La Ville 2005; and Marshall 2010 are attempts to enhance an interdisciplinary dialogue between management and human sciences.

  • de La Ville, Valérie-Inés, ed. L’enfant consommateur: Variations interdisciplinaires sur l’enfant et le marché. Paris: Librairie Vuibert, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    A series of interdisciplinary papers shedding light on the theoretical challenges faced by researchers engaged in an exploration of the transformations of social meanings regarding child and teen consumption in contemporary society.

  • Gabriel, Yannis, and Tim Lang. The Unmanageable Consumer: Contemporary Consumption and its Fragmentation. London and Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    A textbook that includes ten common portraits of the consumer, including children as consumers, that can be found in literature, and identifying the underlying assumptions made in building each portrait.

  • Marshall, David, ed. Understanding Children as Consumers. Advanced Marketing Series. London and Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2010.

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    A key academic textbook that is both comprehensive and concise, and that deals with the main topics that marketers and researchers have been exploring since the 1950s.

  • McNeal, James U. Children as Consumers: Insights and Implications. New York: Lexington, 1987.

    E-mail Citation »

    A seminal work by an American marketing consultant and professor that highlights the key questions marketing managers need to address when marketing to children.

  • McNeal, James U. The Kids Market: Myths and Realities. Ithaca, NY: Paramount Market, 1999.

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    A handbook that aims to overcome taken-for-granted preconceptions about child consumption in order to enable marketing managers to achieve a deeper understanding of children’s views on products and consumption.

  • Montigneaux, Nicolas. Les marques parlent aux enfants: Grâce aux personnages imaginaires. Paris: Éditions d‘Organisation, 2002.

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    A practitioners’ book focused on the emotional bond that brands need to create in addressing the child, including a series of easy analytical tools for the marketing manager.

  • Sutherland, Anne, and Beth Thompson. Kidfluence: The Marketer’s Guide to Understanding and Reaching Generation Y—Kids, Tweens, and Teens. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    A classic practitioners’ guide, well-illustrated and offering some methodologies for addressing children and young consumers.

  • Tufte, Birgitte, Jeanette Rasmussen, and Lars B. Christensen, eds. Frontrunners or Copycats? Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    A collection of research works—undertaken in a managerial and marketing perspective—about children, new media practices, and consumption.

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