My son hit me with a £5,000 Christmas list
Lucy Cavendish was shocked when she saw her teen’s list of Christmas demands
Each year around this time, my children helpfully present me with their Christmas lists. Usually, all four – Raymond, 22, Leonard, 15, Jerry, 12, and ottoline, 11 – are relatively easy to shop for. I’ve seen other parents piling up heaps of goods; spending huge sums on games consoles or a whole wardrobe worth of clothes. But I have always told my children I feel uneasy about this consumerism and they’ve more or less seen sense.
Raymond, the eldest, has only really asked for money in recent years. Leonard and Jerry like Lego Transformers. Last year, we stretched as far as a trendy jumper from Topman, instead of our usual M&S. But change is afoot. A few months ago, Leonard informed me, – with the outraged dignity that only a teenaged boy can muster – that he wasn’t going to be seen dead in anything from M&S anymore.
‘That’s OK,’ I said. ‘Ask for what you’d like at Christmas.’ Maybe I should have spotted the warning signs. For the other day, Leonard wandered into my study waving a list. ‘I’ve written down what I want,’ he said, strangely hesitantly.
I looked at it expecting to see the usual boxer shorts, socks and something to play on the Xbox. But it seemed much longer than usual. Also, I couldn’t get my head around what was on it. Take this ‘Canada Goose Parka’. Canada Goose? Never heard of it. Then there was a Stone Island jumper, NMD shoes, a Tag Heuer watch and an Emporio Armani tracksuit. By the time I got to the Paul Smith boxer shorts, gym equipment and a gym pass to a local gym costing £45 a month, I wondered what was going on.
a lifestyle makeover
An Obagi skincare system followed (it helps with spots, apparently, and comes in at £140), as well as a personal trainer and a nutritionist to help him get in shape for his beloved rugby. It was the wish list to end all wish lists. A lifestyle makeover, in itemised form.
And I couldn’t help noticing that many of the items were aimed at improving his appearance – the kind of thing that once you would have expected only a woman to want.
Bemused, I talked the matter over with female friends who have sons a similar age and many shared their own tales of woe. There seems to be an epidemic of teenage boys suddenly taking a great interest in fancy designer labels and their looks in general. Of course, it’s nothing new for teenagers to worry about being
‘they’re Easy to shop for’
cool. But when did boys become more self-obsessed than girls? Research into 2,000 11-to-16-yearolds found that twice as many boys as girls said they could never discuss body issues with their friends. However, nearly threequarters of boys did believe that how they looked was important. Girls are warned time and again about these pressures and how damaging they can be, but people tend to assume boys will be fine, even when they are really just as uncertain and vulnerable.
unrealistic role models
Walking into trendy Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, there are life-size posters of guys with abs of steel playing football or talking to giggling girls with perfect legs, or young couples gazing flirtatiously at each other, all wearing pricey dresses and polos. Buy the clothes, the adverts seem to suggest, and the lifestyle will be yours, too. I googled Canada Goose. The parka he wanted cost £1,500. The Stone Island jumper was £400. The Emporio Armani tracksuit was nearly £200 and even the boxer shorts £35. Boxer shorts! Once I’d totalled the whole lot up, it came to more than £5,000. I felt terribly disappointed. How on earth could anyone ask for more than £5,000 of stuff? It’s not like we are a family with much, if any, disposable income. So I confronted Leonard. ‘What on earth are you playing at?’ I asked, waving his list at him. He actually looked hurt. ‘What’s the problem?’ he said, defensively. ‘All my friends are getting stuff like this.’ Then he accused me of not understanding him and stormed out. I went after him – didn’t he care about the other children and what they wanted? For that matter, what about the things I wanted? He just scowled at me.
It’s not that I don’t have some sympathy with Leonard’s plight. I know that being ‘trendy’ is important at his age, even if the clothes he lusts after are essentially the same as those in cheaper outlets. I don’t want him to feel embarrassed or singled out.
But I’ve watched Leonard and his relationship with clothes. Paul Smith tops and Tommy Hilfiger bombers lie no longer worn at the bottom of his wardrobe. Because the whole point about owning the ‘right’ designer item is that it won’t be the ‘right’ one for very long. To keep up with the rich kids on TV requires a constant stream of new possessions.
When I was a child, I waited all year to get one Christmas present. I remember with great clarity being desperate for a Harry Hall hacking jacket (I was also desperate for a pony but I knew that was never going to happen). It cost a whopping amount of money back then – about £20 – and I counted the days until I got it. The only other present we got was a family board game, which we were allowed to open after lunch.
time to compromise
We certainly didn’t expect anything more, yet Leonard and his friends now seem to expect treats all year long and more at Christmas. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I haven’t a hope of buying half the things on that awful list. I can’t imagine how vain, image-obsessed and, ultimately, unhappy a teenage boy might become if indulged in this fashion for brand names and lifestyle luxuries.
Instead, I’ve offered to give him cash, which he can use in the Boxing Day sales.
Hopefully, the prospect of handing over all that money just for one logo-emblazoned T-shirt or jumper will nudge him to reconsider what he really wants.
Meanwhile, I’ve found an outlet that does cheap Paul Smith boxer shorts, so there will be something for him under the tree. Just not everything he asked for.
‘I’VE offered HIM Cash’
Lucy couldn’t believe Leonard’s Christmas wish list of gifts