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We are witnessing an increased focus on shopping malls shaping their marketing approach to capture children. It is well articulated as a parent shared with me that a certain mall creates a sense of safety for parents to consider leaving their children at the play area for a whole day (This is not normal). Some parents are attaching their social significance to making shopping malls their sources of information. This social significance creates a false sense of power to choose and perceive malls as avenues for converging cultures and communication.

Shopping malls serve as primary spaces for consumerism, where adults can acquire the products and services they desire. They are designed to function as markets and have even been dubbed a “science” by some. By examining how populations interact and respond to their nonliving surroundings, malls by design model the dynamic interplay between producers, retailers, competing malls, and street-side shops. The retail environment within a mall is akin to an ecosystem, where predators and prey coexist.

So, what is it about shopping malls targeting children? Who is the prey and who is the predator? With this in mind, they may not provide the most conducive environments for children’s development. This is because they inadvertently promote excessive consumerism, which can overwhelm young minds. To achieve success, a mall’s positioning strategy fosters an environment promoting the growth and development of all system components to sustain the life of a shopping mall. Are children becoming an easy target for the future of these shopping malls and how is consumerism obtaining a hold on the young minds?  

Consumerism is a socio-economic concept that proposes that individuals who engage in substantial and frequent purchases of goods and services are likely to achieve greater satisfaction and well-being in life. Is this true? The hypothesis is based on the premise that rampant consumer spending can spur economic growth by increasing demand for goods and services, leading to an expansion of production and employment but is there social and relational satisfaction? How is consumerism influencing human behavior?

Economists have proposed several models to explain consumer behavior, including the Neoclassical, Lancaster, and Becker’s models. These models assume that consumers are rational and knowledgeable about their preferences and the available options in the market. If this is the case, can we confidently conclude that children can be rational and knowledgeable as consumers in a shopping mall? According to the Neoclassical model, consumers allocate their limited resources to purchase goods and services that provide them with the highest utility or satisfaction. In this market equation, what resources do children have to become the target “shoppers”? Lancaster’s model emphasizes the role of product characteristics in shaping consumer preferences, whereas Becker’s model highlights the importance of social and cultural factors in influencing consumer behavior.

However, while seeking satisfaction consumerism may sometimes lead people into debt, rather than saving up for the future. Are we preparing children for consumerism or productivity, considering borrowing makes one a slave to the lender? Are we motivated by their human developmental needs and growth? Furthermore, there are concerns about the unhealthy link between unnecessary material cravings and psychological well-being, and planned feeling of uselessness when in the mind of a child a mall becomes a measure of success. The production of flimsy products that hook children and add no value to their lives is becoming a serious problem creating addictions to the set-up.

This is where we must ask ourselves: if consumerism is becoming an addiction, and addiction is “escaping pain” then what pain are people trying to escape? It is this pain that consumerism is maximizing on, the pain that denies children and parents human connection, the pain that denies humanity a chance to interact with nature. What is the pain? Instead of addressing and facing the pain, our society has created false meanings rooted in materialism. This falsehood promises satisfaction but often yields hollow dissatisfaction, creating longings for children to be in a shopping mall. This massive and self-perpetuating addictive spiral is one of the mechanisms by which consumer society preserves itself by exploiting the very insecurities it generates in our society.

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Therefore, these insecurities are the main source of our relational disconnection in all its forms. In our conversation with a parent who is a manager of one of the malls, he has created a boundary for his children after observing that most children who frequent the malls are socially alienated, and the moment they exhaust what their parents had budgeted for, a sense of loneliness strikes. This confirms that overwhelming children by introducing their social perception based on consumerism breeds a loss of relational meaning, and creates social dislocation. It is this social dislocation and a conflicted child that we have targeted as a consumer instead of building relationships that enhance connection. Diminishing human connection is the pain we are running away from leading to increased preference for addiction in our society, continuing illness, and mental health issues among the youth and children.

This is not in any way to suggest that shopping malls address these challenges by promoting a more holistic approach to well-being that nourishes the mind, body, and soul. That will be next to impossible because the little minds are not breadwinners but dependents. Their minds should frequent natural green spaces, play fields, museums, hills, and art galleries. Shopping malls may not provide the most suitable environments for children’s holistic development. This is because they tend to inadvertently promote excessive consumerism, which can overwhelm young and impressionable minds.

It is more beneficial for children to explore nature and connect with the environment, observe wildlife, and enjoy the peace outdoors. For our human connection and social health, instead of building more shopping malls and commercial concrete structures in our cities and neighborhoods, we should protect green spaces. Children who shop excessively and consume too much in a mall will not benefit as much as those who interact with nature. Moreover, shopping addiction is similar to alcoholism or drug addiction since it releases feel-good chemicals like serotonin. The more a child shops, the better they feel, and over time, they may start relying on shopping at shopping malls to feel happy.

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