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Consumer Competence of Children

Not only adults but also children have become more materialistic in recent years. However, children have not always been considered consumers. Even in the middle of the 20th century they were still only seen as an influencing factor on their parents with regard to consumption. Resulting from the rising significance of media, especially television, this has changed over time. Children have become a target group and increasingly move into the center of attention. Furthermore, also young adolescents participate more and more in the market. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly important to understand what motivates children to make a purchase and what behavior they are following  .   Therefore, the central questions are how and where adolescents make a purchase and what they buy. Thus, since the 1960s children’s buying behavior has been a research. Only years after that consumer protection became aware of this very phenomenon.
Already at the age of four years, adolescents are considered consumers that can express a wish and are able to fulfill it. They are practicing the consumer role so that children between the age of four and seven years are considered interns that are learning to deal with money. From the age of nine they are regarded as practicing consumers that already frequently purchase products (. However, the young adolescents’ actions on the market are limited. Usually, they only perform the role of the user. They rarely have experience beyond the purchase of magazines, toys and groceries.
There are three main reasons for the fact that children have become a significant target group for retailers as well as for manufacturers: Firstly, they considerably influence purchase decisions of adults. Their influence is strongly depending on the product. Understandably, children have a strong influence on products for the children’s consumption and with a low purchase price. Yet, also during the purchase of more expensive products, such as vacation trips or cars, children usually significantly influence their parents’ decision. Secondly, in most cases children have a considerable budget at their disposal. This enables them to buy the products they like for themselves and it is also often spent on other people. The products that children prefer depend on the children’s sex and age. Companies are attempting to develop an early loyalty towards their brand. The children’s significance as a target group led to the fact that they have become addressees of the marketing of many retailers and manufacturers.
However, the tremendous importance of children and teenagers as market participants is opposed to deficits in their purchasing competence—the ability to not only use the market’s supply for their own aims and needs but also to use it in a socially sustainable way. We know from developmental theory that children are no “tiny adults”: They are not born with an adult’s competences and many cognitive as well as affective abilities only develop during the first years of life. This becomes especially clear in the overestimation of their own control of risks and an insufficient impact assessment of their activities.


The aim of the project is the description of the “consumer competence of children” and the identification of approaches to increase the consumer competence.


Dr. Michael Schuhen (schuhen@zoebis.de)

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