Knockoffs an ethical issue for parents, tweens

Tweens & teens - August 2005


Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.


Does your tween’s or teen’s back-to-school list have a Louis Vuitton handbag or wallet on it?

Don’t be surprised. Don’t expect to have to pay full price, either. Highly fashion-conscious kids—and their parents—are taking advantage of fake luxury products to stock wardrobes and egos with counterfeit couture.

These knockoff products are found at mall kiosks, flea markets, purse parties and on the Internet. Fake Cartier watches and Prada bags give consumers the chance to own designer merchandise without paying designer prices.

Unfortunately, many buyers—especially our children—don’t realize the fakes are actually counterfeit, and that both making and bringing these products into the United States to sell is a federal crime.

What at first glance may be just a fashion issue is actually an ethical and legal issue as well.

When tackling this topic with your kids, help them consider the significance of wardrobe and fashion in their life, both personally and globally. How important is a designer label and why? Can they see beyond their desire to possess an ego-boosting product for a bigger cause?

Kids will be at different stages with this issue depending on their maturity. Try to use the question to help them think about a tough subject. Consider the following as you explore this topic:

The ego connection. When your tween asks for new school clothes and accessories, is it because she’s outgrown last year’s outfits, because styles have changed or because she needs the new wardrobe to feel good about herself?

Kids need clothes that fit and aren’t worn out. But beyond that, it becomes a luxury rather than a necessity. Think about how far your child takes the desire to fit in through her appearance. During adolescence, clothing can play a big part in feeling socially accepted. But there is a difference between wanting to look cool because it’s fun and feels good and needing to look cool to boost your self-esteem.

As usual, balance is healthy. If your young teen can be happy with some new additions to her wardrobe and still wear last season’s clothes that aren’t on the cutting edge of style, it’s likely she feels good about, and draws self-confidence from, other facets of her life and personality.

If nothing less than an entire new wardrobe complete with designer shoes, belts, bags and jewelry isn’t enough, it may be time to talk. If your child’s self-esteem is tied up in how she looks or what she owns, she needs to find more valuable ways to feel good about herself. Talk to her about her value as a human being—just because she is alive. Help her identify qualities that are more important than looks—traits such as loyalty, generosity, honesty, sense of humor, kindness, sincerity or courage. Help her to understand that even if she wears the hottest outfits in the whole school, it’s her positive inner qualities that will bring her true friendship, respect and success.

The facts about fakes. Educate your child about what actually takes place for a knockoff product to become available at a mall kiosk. Most kids have no idea these fake products are actually ideas illegally stolen from legitimate companies. Counter-feiters sell each product for less money than the company that designed it, preventing the real creators from being paid for their work. This is similar to your child developing a great science project, doing all the work and having another student steal the idea and get credit from the teacher.

Intellectual theft and making and selling fake products are against the law. If those who are doing it get caught, they can go to jail.

Kids also aren’t aware that counterfeiting companies are often connected with organized crime. The money spent on knockoffs may go to people who are selling drugs or committing other crimes—activities you would normally not support with your money. Counterfeiters often use children to work in their factories as well, or people who don’t have permission to work in our country, under conditions that aren’t always safe, clean or healthy.

While it’s not yet a crime to purchase a fake product in the United States, it is in other places. Buying or carrying a knockoff product in France can send you to jail for up to three years.

Tweens and teens are at an age when they can begin to think about how their actions affect others and society. Using learning opportunities such as these can help develop their awareness and sense of responsibility.


Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 21 and 25. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.


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