How We Learn About Social Class

From the NYT, comes this article on the booming market for cell phones among 8-12 year olds (and among their parents, eager to appease them).

The article notes that “children” (an apparently homogeneous group) want them

for reasons obvious to them. It looks cool and makes them feel grown-up. It conveys a certain status. And it lets them stay in near-constant touch with friends and (oh, yeah) parents.

The tone of the article is one of benign amusement. Yet one sentence is given over to a developmental psychologist who observes that:

Kids whose families can’t afford all this junk are made to feel worse and worse, and some parents end up shelling out money that would be better spent elsewhere.

Families who are willing to pay for expensive techno-toys, in large measure to accommodate their children’s’ desire for status (one incident described in the article involves a jealous friend “screaming and crying” when a child showed up at school with her new phone), are framed in this article as the norm, are even celebrated as contributing to the economic health of cell phone companies.

Poor and working class kids who don’t want or can’t have such things are “othered”, positioned outside the generic reference to “children”. Beyond mention of “feeling bad”, no mention is made of the ways that hundreds of daily interactions — such as that of sitting quietly in the back of the classroom while peers show off their new expensive toys — are part of the ways in which children internalize messages of their relative worth and status.

And what are the lucky recipients of the new cells phones doing with them? Apparently, after an initial flurry of dialing, they are forgetting about them.

The point, it seems, is mainly  to acquire expensive things as part of their internalized sense of entitlement to the admiration — or envy — of their peers.

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