Special Session Summary Understanding the Adolescent’S Consumption World: Shopping, Influencing, Deceiving

Terry Bristol, Arizona State University West
[ to cite ]:
Terry Bristol (2001) ,"Special Session Summary Understanding the Adolescent’S Consumption World: Shopping, Influencing, Deceiving", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 16-18.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Pages 16-18



Terry Bristol, Arizona State University West

Adolescence is a particularly important time of life, representing the bridge from childhood to adulthood. The consumption habits and skills acquired during this time may carry over into later periods of a person’s life. However, not only do adolescents represent "consumers-in-training," but they are important consumers in their own right. The purchasing power of teens has increased dramatically in recent years and teens represent a particularly large group of consumers. Thus, it is important for consumer researchers to understand adolescents and how they cope in the world of consumptionBboth inside and outside the context of the family. The general purpose of this session was to further our understanding of the consumption world of adolescents by focusing on their consumption behaviors and skills, and how these are learned or acquired.

The session was structured to fill distinct gaps in our knowledge of adolescent consumer behaviorBinside the family and outside the family. The three papers presented during the session were devoted to exploring adolescents’ shopping experiences and skills, how and why these consumers acquire and use purchase influence strategies, and the factors related to their tendency to deceive their parents about purchases. Lynnea Mallalieu’s paper filled a gap in our understanding of the shopping skills of children. Her study explored teens’ beliefs about "good" and "bad" shopping skills. While recent research has examined what influence strategies children use in the family, Kay Palan’s paper investigated why adolescents choose to use particular influence strategies. Finally, although teen deception and parental monitoring of such behavior has been recently discussed in the popular press, no existing consumer research has examined teens’ deception in purchasing. Tammy Mangleburg and Terry Bristol’s paper filled that void, examining those factors that may be related to teens’ propensity to use deception.

Discussion was lead by Deborah Roedder John. Upon reviewing Mallalieu’s paper, John suggested that there has been little research concerning teenage shopping skills, and shopping skills in general. There appears to be a need for a taxonomy of shopping skills and linkage made between such skills and consumer development across the lifespan. For example, the development of negotiating skills within the family requires further exploration, particularly given that such skills and patterns may be carried to consumption settings outside of the family. John related these ideas to Palan’s paper, noting that it went beyond basic teenage consumption patterns, skills, and strategies, to examine how parental styles and strategies impact teens’ strategis in family purchase decisions. John suggested that the Mangleburg and Bristol paper looks at teens in a different wayBtraditionally children are thought of as victims in the children’s consumption literature. Further, she noted that a wide range of "bad" behaviors engaged in by adolescents should be investigated, including theft, compulsive behaviors, and behaviors toward debt, particularly given that such behaviors may carry over into adulthood. The discussion ended with a call for more research into adolescents’ consumption behavior, both inside and outside the family.



Lynnea Mallalieu, Iowa State University

Researchers have explored a wide range of topics reflecting children’s growing sophistication as consumers. Among children, teenagers in particular are a highly sought after market segment. They have money to spend and seemingly have a keen awareness of brands, store images, and price-value concepts; however, little research exists that actually explores teenagers’ shopping skills. Given the vast increase in marketing efforts directed at children over the last decade, it is important to ensure that children have the skills and knowledge needed to function as responsible consumers in the marketplace.

The aim of the present research is to explore teenagers’ shopping experiences and examine their shopping skills and abilities. Shopping skills have referred to a wide array of abilities used for comparing product value prior to purchase. We have taken the liberty of extending this definition to include children’s perceptions of what constitutes good and bad shopping habits. If children acquire shopping skills as they mature, then by the time they are teenagers they should have a fairly well developed set of shopping skills and have the ability to handle shopping encounters in a responsible fashion. There is, however, little empirical evidence to support this.

Given the dearth of research that examines teenagers shopping skills, some initial exploratory data was gathered on actual shopping experiences that teenagers have had and on their perceptions of what constitutes good shopping habits and bad shopping habits. The data was collected from a group of middle school students between the ages of 12 and 14. The author met with the students as a group once a week for about 90 minutes over a six week period. During the six sessions, several exploratory techniques were employed in an attempt to probe various aspects of the children’s shopping skills and marketplace intelligence. Three of the techniques utilized and the resulting data were reported.

The first of the three techniques was designed to get the subjects to really think about the overall shopping experience. The initial task required them to generate #love/hate’ lists about shopping. This was designed to get them to think about the extremes of shopping in terms of what they really love about it and what they really hate about it. The second task required them to think about what they consider to be good shopping habits and what they consider to be bad shopping habits. This task was designed to begin to explore their awareness of different types of shopping behaviors. The third task required them to recount a specific shopping encounter that they had had recently. Using critical incident methodology, each teenager was asked to recall in as much detail as possible a recent shopping encounter that he or she had had. This task was designed to examine the specific types of shopping skills displayed by the teenagers.

Results indicate that the teenagers in the study have a fairly well developed set of shopping skills. The same themes consistently emerge from the data namely that the concepts of price-value, and of independent decision making are well developed. Teens seem to understand the purchase process, recognize good and bad shopping behaviors, and enjoy the end result of shoppingBgetting things. There is, however, soe indication that teenagers are not yet at a stage where they are truly comfortable with all aspects of their shopping experiences. They appear to have a desire to feel power during their shopping experiences especially over the salesperson. This may be connected with the perception that the teen is not always treated with respect as a consumer in the marketplace and feels somewhat isolated and uncertain of how to respond to an adult salesperson.



Kay M. Palan, Iowa State University

The purpose of this research is to extend understanding of how and why adolescent children acquire and use strategies to influence purchase decisions within the context of the family. Since children primarily learn consumer behaviors from their parents, this study developed a conceptual model of children’s influence strategy usage based on parental socialization style theory.

Socialization is an adult-initiated process by which children acquire habits and values congruent with their culture through insight, training, and imitation. That is, parents influence the development of children by purposely training, being role models, and providing opportunities to learn. Thus, a parent’s general socialization orientation, or parental style, serves as a context that impacts how parents and children interact in purchase decisions.

The conceptual model is based on four proposed linkages. First, parents are expected to more frequently use influence strategies that reflect their parental style. Research supports this linkage. Two different paths are proposed to explain children’s use of influence strategies: (1) through a direct relationship to the types of influence strategies used by parents; and (2) through a direct relationship to the effectiveness of children’s strategies. A fourth linkage posits a direct relationship between parental strategies and children’s strategy effectiveness. Finally, the model suggests the possibility that children’s strategy effectiveness mediates the relationship between parental strategies and children’s strategies.

Subjects were solicited through a school district in the midwestern U.S. The sample consisted of 74 mother-child dyads (40 mother-son dyads and 34 mother-daughter dyads); the adolescents were 7th and 8th graders (12-14 year olds). Both mothers and adolescents completed similar questionnaires, responding to questions about frequency and effectiveness of strategy use by adolescents and mothers for purchases "really important" to the adolescent; in addition, mothers completed questions that were used to determine their parental style. Using a procedure similar to that used in other studies, parents were categorized as neglecting (n=25), permissive (n=15), authoritarian (n=14), or authoritative (n=20).

To facilitate data analysis, parental and children’s strategies were grouped into strategy groups via factor analysis. Three parental strategy groups were formed: discussion strategies (give opinions, invite opinions, need vs. want, alternative, reasoning, set parameters, and teach skills) bargaining strategies (money deals and other deals), and authority strategies (simple answer, can’t afford it, and delay). Four children’s strategy groups were formed: negative strategies (persistence, anger, pouting, whining, and manipulate), persuasion strategies (sweet talk, begging, and everyone else has it), reasoning strategies (reasoning, money deals, and other deals), and inform strategies (asking, telling, and opinionates). Groups of children’s strategy effectiveness were formed to directly correspond to the children’s strategy groups.

As predicted, the use of parental strategies was related to parental style. Permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative mothers used discussion strategies significantly more often than did neglecting mothers, while authoritarian and authoritative mothers used authority strategies more often than did permissve and neglecting mothers. With respect to explaining children’s strategy use, mothers’ use of bargaining strategies was significantly related to children’s reasoning strategies, but other hypothesized relationships between mothers’ and children’s strategies were not found. However, all four children’s strategy groups were significantly related to the effectiveness of the corresponding strategy groups; r-squares indicated that a large proportion of the variance in children’s strategy use is explained by how effective a strategy has been in the past. There was a significant relationship between the effectiveness of children’s reasoning and persuasion strategies and mother’s bargaining strategies. Finally, significant mediation effects were found with respect to three of the four children’s strategy groups, such that children’s strategy effectiveness mediated the relationship between parental strategies and children’s influence strategies. Taken overall, these results imply that parental style indirectly determines children’s strategy use through both parental strategies and children’s strategy effectiveness. In addition, the results indicate that it is possible that some influence strategiesBparental bargaining strategies and adolescent persuasion strategiesBare universally valued, regardless of parenting style.



Tamara F. Mangleburg, Florida Atlantic University

Terry Bristol, Arizona State University West

Teenagers’ consumption patterns have been studied from a number of different perspectives. One implicit assumption that many studies share is that parents are aware of how teens spend money. There is reason to believe, however, that teens are not always forthcoming with their parents and may even seek to hide or deceive parents about how they spend money. This research examined teens’ tendency toward deception in purchasing. In particular, we conceptualized deception in purchasing as being related to parental socialization practices and teens’ motivation, ability, or opportunity to be deceptive.

One aspect of parental socialization practices that is likely to be particularly relevant for deception is the nature of the family communication environment. With certain types of communication environments, teens may feel comfortable in discussing "controversial" products, whereas other types of environments may serve to stifle discussion of such issues. Socio- oriented communication stresses maintenance of harmonious social relations and deference to parental authority. Because socio-oriented communication stresses obedience and conformity, we would expect deception to be more likely here. In contrast, concept-oriented communication stresses acquisition of information and children’s problem-solving abilities. Deception may be less likely in such an environment.

Another factor that is likely to affect teens’ deception in purchasing is their desire to have certain products. When teens want products, and parents view these products as "undesirable," teens may be more motivated to engage in deceptive purchasing. Normative peer influence may motivate such desires. Peer groups may specify what are desirable and undesirable products. And to the degree that parents disapprove of or dislike these things, teens are likely to deceive parents in their purchase of such items. For similar reasons, we also expect that teens’ extent of television viewing will be positively related to deception in purchasing. Ads on television may persuade teens that certain products are "cool" or more positively evaluated by popular groups. To the extent that parents disapprove of these products, teens may be more likely to engage in deception in purchasing them. Teens’ level of materialism may be an important motivation to engage in deception. To the extent that teens are materialistic, they may desire to have popular products in and of themselves. This desire to acquire things and to value things heavily, in turn, may increase the tenency toward deception.

Teens’ ability or opportunity to engage in deceptive purchasing is also likely to affect the extent to which they are deceptive. For instance, when teens shop with friends, they are able to buy any products that they and their friends like and can afford, without obtaining parents’ approval. The source of teens’ money is also likely to affect their degree of deception. If parents are giving an allowance, they may place stipulations on how the money is to be spent, inadvertently encouraging teen deception to avoid such constraints. When teens work and earn their own money, however, there may be less tendency to engage in deception. Parents may not feel that they should have much say in how teens spend job-related earnings.

The hypotheses were tested with data from a sample of students who attended a public high school in a city in the Southeast. The average age of respondents was 16 years and 56 percent were female. Results of the data analysis indicated that a socio-oriented communication environment, teens’ susceptibility to normative peer influence, the extent teens shop with their friends, and teens’ materialism are positively related to their tendency to engage in deception. And, as predicted, a concept-oriented communication environment is negatively related to deception. In sum, the data provide support for the conceptual model in which teens’ deception in purchasing is associated with parental socialization practices and teens’ motivation and ability to engage in deception.