Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Children As Salespeople

What I find really weird is when people send out kids to sell chocolate bars, magazines, magnets, or any other kind of junk to collect money for charity. I think this is a very disturbing practice. Isn’t it too early for small children to be involved in the whole selling and buying ideology? They have the rest of their lives to feel like failures at selling stuff. Do they really need to be exposed to that as early as 5 (or 8, 10, 12)?

Also, is it really necessary to inculcate the idea that you can only be charitable if you manage to sell a lot? Then these kids grow up and it never even occurs to them that shelling out huge sums of money to feel self-righteous and good has nothing whatsoever to do with charity. People just sign monthly checks to charities in a completely mechanical way. Often, they even compete through the size of their donations.

We already have sales strategies invade too many areas of our lives. Is it really necessary to expose small children to sales under the guise of teaching them to be charitable? If instead you, for example, take a kid to the old folks’ home and get him or her to read a book or chat with a lonely elderly person, wouldn’t this do a lot more to develop this child as a human being than any amount s/he can bring in by selling stuff?

If I do decide to have a child and that child is forced to participate in this by their school, I’d just buy the entire stock of candy or chocolate bars or fridge magnets with my own money. And then I’d walk around with the kid distributing the stuff to people for free. Otherwise, I’d just die of shame if I see my (imaginary) child trying to sell things to people at an early age.

How do you, dear readers, feel about this phenomenon?

I was reminded of this disturbing phenomenon by this post.

25 thoughts on “Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Children As Salespeople”

  1. I don’t like sell-buggery, no matter if it is for a charity or not.
    If I want to donate money to something I will do it because I want to and not because I want you to shut the Eff up about it.

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    1. using children for this is especially nasty because it’s hard to say no to a child. You don’t want to make them start crying and then have the parents go off on you for upsetting their kid.

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  2. My impression is that a lot of these children sellers are trying to raise money for *their* interest (school, girl scout tribe, sports team, whatever). And the point is therefore not to teach them about charity, but is in fact to teach them about business (and working hard to earn things you want, etc). In which case I think these programs are reasonably effective as a teaching tool (assuming you actually support teaching your kid those lessons), kind of like running a lemonade stand when you’re little (possibly just an American thing). If these programs are being sold to parents as teaching kids about charity, then I agree, that is total bs.

    However, I do think these programs are ineffective at actually raising money- it seems like their target audience are people who want the items and are willing to pay a slight mark-up for a charity… and suckers, of course.

    Also, some charities do need money and not just man hours.

    Should I have kids some day, I would be okay with them selling stuff (or providing other services like car washes or mowing the lawn) in order to raise money for their school/sports team/whatever, so long as it occurs no more than once a year, and will actually provide a reasonable profit to support their program.

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      1. I think for some kids, selling can be fun. My impression was that play was good not only for exercising the brain/being creative, but that it also helped children learn the society they live in- like playing house, or pretending to have a certain career, one can play business as well.

        As long as the kids are having fun, are safe, and learning (unlike some of the examples people are mentioning down stream in the comments), I still don’t have too much of a problem with kids learning some business stuff (by doing) when young.

        I guess it also depends how young we’re talking about. I usually use “kids” to refer to anyone younger than myself 😉 But I probably wouldn’t encourage it for elementary school children since I would think they would find it boring (I *definitely* wouldn’t encourage the competitive aspect of salesmanship)… maybe if it’s in a big group doing something like girl scout cookies or a lemonade stand, but that’s about it.

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  3. It seems to be a clever way of subverting child labor laws. What would the feds say if 10 year olds were offering mow lawns in exchange for a donation to their school?

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  4. In Israel middle school children (ages 12+) sometimes participate in collecting money for charity (at school can be such a day, when you’re expected to). They go in pairs from door to door and give different money checks for different sums (one check for 5 shkalim, another for 10, etc). This way the giving people may be sure all money will be delivered where intended.

    I did it once and at one opening door was met by a big angry dog. Fortunately, the owner could control it. Forgot where the other girl was. Probably we splitted to end faster. My relatives weren’t happy because of danger aspect in their eyes since you don’t know who’ll open that door.

    I wouldn’t let a young child to go alone. Read once how in US a girl went alone to sell cookies for charity and was badly mauled (iirc, killed) by a dog of the house. Owners weren’t at home, but the dog exited the house (probably through that special dog door) and attacked.

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  5. I agree. We used to sell cookies in girls scouts. At first I was proud of the 58 or whatever boxes I was able to sell spending hours and hours going door to door, until the girl whose father owned a big company sold 210 boxes and won the prize each time. To this day I refuse to buy girl scout cookies from coworkers especially bosses on behalf of their kids. But you feel pressured. Also one time my neighbor (my friend’s father who was home alone) answered the door naked and I had to go through the whole transaction pretending I didn’t notice. But that wasn’t as bad as having my efforts mocked by the success of the rich kids in town.

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    1. This is a lesson in business practices: having a good sales technique is less important than having connections.

      Children don’t need to feel hurt or traumatized by such experiences early in life, in my opinion. I know what it feels like to be a poor kid in school surrounded by rich kids, and it isn’t a feeling a kid wants to have reinforced.

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  6. I am not sure I agree.. I do think it all depends on the purpose and the way fundraising is done. I certainly don’t agree with it being done in a competitive fashion. However, if it is all in fun and is used to collect funds for something directly for the kids (ie: new equipment for the school or a field trip, and so forth), I see no harm. To give you an example, the kids at Klubnikis’ daycare were selling cookies to parents during pick up time and they seemed to have lots of fun doing that. Participation was not obligatory and not all the kids participated – only those who were interested. It was done as part of a big fundraising project for a charity.

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  7. I see your point, but I still think it is fine as long as the kids are not forced to participate in the activity. Now that I think about it, I would much rather give money to a kid for a project he is part of, then say a co-worker asking to be sponsored for his/ her walk, run, stair-climbing, and so forth.

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    1. But did the kids make that decision about needing the equipment? Why are young kids involved in a decision like that? Do they understand budgetary issues that thoroughly? Or are they just involved because they are cute so the school will make more money? I’m not sure I ever even understood where the girl scout cookie money went. And nowadays the parents do most of the work and then praise the children, which is equally annoying. I hate when you are walking into a store and you see the moms and girls scouts (who are often bored and distracted) with their table setup by the entrance ready to guilt people into buying.

      On the other hand we loved setting up lemonade stands and making a few pennies when we were kids, and I always find it charming when I come across kids doing this. And it’s actually a nice idea to offer people an inexpensive drink on a warm day.

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  8. I have known children who did this were trying to raise money for a specific school event, such as a trip by the school chorus to perform in another country. They were enthusiastic and made enough money for the trip, which would have been cancelled otherwise.

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    1. Where does this stop, though? What level of the adults’ incapacity to provided for the children will need to be supplemented by children’s efforts? What if the school doesn’t have enough money to pay for the lunches and the parents don’t have the money either? What if the school runs out of teaching supplies? What if desks and chairs need repairing? Or the roof in the children’s house leaks? These are all problems that adults need to resolve. Making kids work to do the job of the adults is wrong.

      The other side of this unfortunate trend is paying children for doing household chores. Or paying them for good grades. Brrr.

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      1. That is the point, of course, Clarissa. The schools ought to be funded sufficiently to cover significant extracirricular activities. But if the politicians and taxpayers cannot do that, it makes sense for the students to find a way anyway.

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    2. When I was a child, I was on both sides of the issue at different times. Sometimes, there was a very specific Thing I Wanted — a week at summer camp, a weekend basketball tournament, a class trip — so I was motivated to sell and knew concrete details as to where the money was going. Perhaps equally importantly, I was motivated to sell by the purpose for the selling — that is, I was selling in order to get that specific Thing I Wanted, not to get whatever sales reward was being offered (in most cases, those rewards didn’t really exist).

      I’ve also had times where I’ve been instructed — not forced, no, but certainly not independently motivated — to sell something “to raise money for school” (or church or wherever). When they were competitive or when I wasn’t sure where the money was going or when it was going for something I wasn’t invested in, I definitely felt pressured to sell rather than wanting to do it.

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  9. I remember this stuff, we had to sell $48 dollars worth of peanut brittle in 5th grade in order to raise money for a trip to Medieval Times. I don’t know why in the hell the school had us sell peanut brittle, nobody eats that. They should have at least given us chocolate, everybody likes that 😀 My brother’s school doesn’t allow the door-to-door thing for fundraisers, though, they were afraid of kids getting hurt, so now Mom tries to sell this junk to her coworkers, it sucks because everyone else’s kid is selling something and you can’t buy from all the kids 😦

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  10. Of course this practice is very big in third world countries, where children supplement the family’s income. It has been a long term part of Zimbabwean culture. Children were even used as messengers, couriers and spies during the civil war — majiba. So they were sometimes implicated and shot.

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  11. Ever read a book called The Chocolate War, Clarissa? 🙂

    And I was forced to do that when I was a kid in Catholic school, to raise money for something or other, I don’t really remember what now. We got big huge boxes of different candies to sell. Being autistic of course, the prospect of going door-to-door terrified me, so I just smashed my cat-bank and bought all the candy ($100 worth, I had a lot of quarters) myself.

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  12. I hated selling stuff like that. Here kids come to the door selling things their mothers cooked and this is different: you’re buying directly from a producer and the money is going to them, it’s their business. But these chocolate bars for charity are ridiculous.

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  13. I’m a volunteer with a youth organization, and at the beginning of the year when we asked the kids what kinds of stuff they liked last year and wanted to do again, quite a few of them said selling . Others mentioned camping, and given that we’re in a lower-income area, in order to go to camp, we have to do some kind of fundraising, our parents can’t subsidize extra activities.

    We do a lot of talking and role playing and stuff ahead of time so that the kids know exactly what to expect and things to say, and when to signal for help from the adults in the group. They’re instructed to never sell without an adult (parent or volunteer). They’re allowed to take boxes home and do individual sales, but if they say they can’t, that’s fine and we just ask them to come to the group sale. We try to celebrate the sales of the group as a whole rather than any one child getting all the glory.

    Given that the kids generally like doing it, and that we can’t afford to do fun things without the fundraising, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

    If the fundraising you are seeing is being done in a way that the kids aren’t enjoying themselves, then that’s definitely an issue and should be corrected, but my experience has been that after the first sale the shyness generally wears off and the kids get a real charge out of the interactions with people.

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    1. It’s important to know the age of the kids in this story. If they are teenagers, that’s fine. But younger kids have a tendency to say whatever the adults want to hear. So it’s extremely easy to get them to agree that they like pretty much anything.

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