My son hit me with a £5,000 Christ­mas list

Lucy Cavendish was shocked when she saw her teen’s list of Christ­mas de­mands

Woman (UK) - - Contents -

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

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