It’s back to school time. As a parent of two high-school students, I consider myself fortunate that my kids are not particularly into bling – they’re not too keen on brand name shoes or apparel; they don’t want a G-shock watch, they don’t care much for iPhones or any other type of jewelry.
As a marketing professor, I’m concerned that they’re missing out on the whole bling thing.
High schools are traditional hotbeds of bling. Teenagers packed tight in a competitive social environment, hormones raging, figuring out social hierarchies and consciously developing networks and cliques for the first time, quickly learn to cling to bling as a social marker that differentiates one group from another, raises an individual above others, and marks affiliations.
[Of course, bling is hardly limited to teenagers. High schools are merely training grounds for social behavior that endures a lifetime.]
Parents and teachers react to teenage bling like it's a bad thing. Is it?
Isn’t bling just a language through which peers communicate?
What does bling communicate? It says here is who I am, these are the groups that I belong to, it cries out: “looking for similar people or people impressed with this type of bling,” it communicates identity, group affiliation, and norms. These are fundamental needs for teenagers. Every piece of bling carries a message.
No wonder high schools are bling-saturated environments.
If it weren’t for bling, high schools would either be very bland places or teenagers would find other outlets for expressing themselves. In educational establishments where school uniforms are mandatory, in part to do away with apparel as markers of differentiation, kids find other ways of expressing themselves such as hair styles, bags and backpacks, and gadgets (sometimes, even calculators serve to signal status).
So if bling is essential to teenage (and, by extension, social) communication, are my kids missing out on sending signals?
Somehow, I don’t think so. In a blingy environment, going blingless sends a very clear-cut message: “I’m so cool, I’m above bling.”
But that still leaves me concerned.