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Professor Encourages Parents to Resist Perennial Pleas For Expensive Back-to-School Clothing Says Children Can Be Taught to Be Smart Shoppers

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: August 18, 1994

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Parents may cringe as they anticipate the battles that are looming as the back-to-school shopping season arrives. Yet they can weather the pleas for $150 sneakers and $200 jackets by taking charge and teaching their children to be educated shoppers, a University at Buffalo marketing professor advises.

"Children are influenced by advertising and peer-group pressure," says Arun Jain, chair of the Department of Marketing and Samuel P. Capen professor of marketing research at UB. "They must be taught to ignore brand names and look at the characteristics of a product that meets their needs at the best possible price.

"This means sitting down as a family, figuring out how much money there is to spend and exactly what items are needed," Jain says. "Once these decisions have been made, brand names become secondary."

Parents who give in and buy their children those $150 sneakers are spoiling them and "not preparing them to make smart shopping choices as they get older," he notes.

And those parents who pay part of the cost of the sneakers -- with the kids paying the rest -- are discouraging their children from saving.

While this approach may encourage children to go out and work to get items they want, they may be working -- instead of studying -- to buy expensive items that they really don't need, he adds.

"This is teaching them the wrong values," Jain says. "They have no notion about where they should be spending their money."

He says consumer magazines directed at children, such as Zillions, help them to become smart shoppers. These magazines, whose product testing is done by children, show kids how to manage a budget and ignore advertisers, he says, adding that they can become an important part of a long-term strategy by parents to help their children become better-educated consumers.