“Children and adolescents are being deceived by false models of happiness pushed by adults who lead them down the dead-end streets of consumerism,” Pope Benedict XVI said this past Saturday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and also the traditional first day of the Christmas shopping season in Italy.

In the United States, more evidence of this dire warning abounds and has for some time.

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-orient society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Dr. James McGinnis, founder of the Institute for Peace and Justice in St. Louis, suggests several practical ways for teens and others to counter consumerism in his recent book Activities for Catholic Social Teaching. Share some of these ideas with your students. Ask them to suggest other ways to counteract rampant consumerism, especially during Advent and Christmas.

Some Practical Ways to Counter Consumerism

Use public facilities.
  Use the public library for books and videos and public parks for outdoor fun.

Critique advertising.   As a way of resisting the appeal of advertising, talk back to TV commercials, magazine ads, highway billboards. Share some of this with your friends or family.

Enjoy the outdoors.   The beauty of creation can delight far more than computer games and video arcades and lots of other consumer “stuff.” Walk or bike in nearby parks. Try hiking and canoeing, and camp out, even in your own backyard sometimes. Enjoy your local botanical gardens and arboretums and visit state and national parks whenever you get the opportunity.

Think before you buy.   Are you an impulsive buyer or are you affected by the push to instant gratification? Is there a way you could slow down your shopping habits to allow for some time to reflect about whether you need an item before you purchase it?

Personalize your gifts. Personal “presence” can be more satisfying than purchased presents when we celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. Surprise parties, albums with special photos and personal statements, homemade gifts, going to special places with the person being celebrated, etc., are all wonderful alternatives to consumer-oriented rituals.

Shop small.   Shop at local stores and thrift stores, buy from local producers (e.g., open air or farmers markets), eat at neighborhood restaurants.

Consider the mall.   Malls are everywhere, replacing many local stores and family-owned restaurants. How often and for what reasons do you go to shopping malls?
What functions has the shopping mall taken on in our nation? In your own life?
True or false: shopping malls have become the religious temples of America. Explain.

Institute an “Exchange System.” To reduce the amount of “stuff” you accumulate, for each new item you buy, give away a similar item to someone in need. This works especially well with articles of clothes but can also apply to books, games, CDs, etc.

Other Ideas
• Have the students visit the Affluenza and The Center for a New American Dream websites and come up with additional suggestions for combating consumerism.
• Read Psalm 34:1–11. Have the students consider what the Lord will do for the unfortunate who call out for his help.
• Use handouts from James McGinnis book that address this and other issues in social justice.