How Materialism Develops In The Young

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Yesterday, I mentioned my concerns about children and their burgeoning consumerism, particularly around Christmas. I was particularly concerned about my own child’s well-being: would he be sucked into similar consumerist ideals or would I be able to teach him other values?

In a very timely fashion, I stumbled upon an article entitled How Materialism Develops In The Young. The article focused on materialism in children and how it develops at different points in childhood development.

To get a better handle on the issue, Chaplin and co-investigator Deborah Roedder John, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, looked at three age groups – 8-9 year olds (third- and fourth-graders), 12-13 year olds (seventh- and eighth-graders) and 16-18 year olds (11th- and 12th-graders).

The researchers used collages to chart the value placed on materialistic objects such as “stuffed animals,” “money” and “nice sports equipment” compared with non-materialistic sentiments such as “being with “friends,” “being good at sports” and “helping others,” in making them happy. The researchers also asked the children open-ended questions about what made them happy.

The researchers found that materialistic values increased between 8-9 year olds and 12-13 year olds, but then dropped between the 12-13 age group and 16-18 age group.

In other words, the scientists found a distinct correlation between adolescence and an increase in materialism. As someone who has watched an army of nieces and nephews grow into (and through) these age ranges, it doesn’t surprise me, actually. The early adolescents are almost always the ones who covet the material goods the most, while the children who grow through this gradually become somewhat less oriented towards material goods (in some cases).

However, I was more interested in what I could do to help my child avoid materialism, and the rest of the article fascinated me:

In a second study, the researchers determined that self-esteem was a key factor in a child’s level of materialism. Children with lower self-esteem valued possessions significantly more than children with higher self-esteem.

Moreover, the heightened materialistic values of early adolescents were directly related to “a severe drop in self-esteem that occurs around 12-13 years of age.” By using a test that primed high self-esteem among the children, the researchers wrote that they “reversed the large drop in self-esteem experienced by early adolescents, thereby reducing the steep rise in materialism among this group.”

As a result, the researchers wondered whether proposed bans on child advertising and other restrictions were the best approach to reduce overly materialistic values.

“Our results suggest that strategies aimed at influencing feelings of self-worth and self-esteem among ‘tweens’ (8-12 year olds) and adolescents would be effective,” they concluded.

This sounds more like it. A distinct tie between lower self-esteem and higher materialism also seems completely spot-on. Children who have a low self-worth can easily buy into the idea that they will have more self-worth if they are given a particular object. This is why I often see the children who have clear self-image issues being the ones who count their presents and hoard what they have, while other children do this much less.

So what do I need to do to keep my child from being materialistic? The key is focusing on his self-esteem. I need to make sure that I’m always there for him, reinforcing the fact that he is a worthy individual, both during his successes and his failures. This is particularly true during his adolescence, which is (thankfully) about a decade away.

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3 thoughts on “How Materialism Develops In The Young

  1. I think it helps to teach kids about money early and often too. My six year old son has had three money jars for a couple of years now: Give, Save, Spend.

    Each week I pay him five quarters for helping around the house (folding towels, putting away his clothes after I fold them, making his bed every day, cleaning his room, and his newest chore, dragging the empty trash and recycle bins back from the curb.

    The five quarters are split thusly: two for save, two for spend and one for give. ‘Save’ is for college, ‘Spend’ is for souveniers on trips (such as our pending Disney World expedition this April), and ‘Give’ is for a christmas present for the annual Police Toy Drive (we have a 401Dad program where I match his give amount).

    When he gets to spend his own money on a toys and souveniers, he gets to witness thier value first hand. He also gets to learn about how good it feels to give and it provides me with a chance to teach him about how fortunate he is.

  2. This is interesting. I myself am 15, and I try my hardest not to be sucked into the materialistic society which is so inviting. I do have a friend, however, who buys into this readily – he always has the latest video games, the best clothes, etc. He is slightly below average height, although not the shortest person ever, but this being Britain we – that being me and my friends – ‘take the mickey’ out of him for it – basically making fun of him. We only do this because he responds, or at least used to respond, in an aggressive and over-the-top way, which of course encouraged us. He has taken his below average height and made it into something that lowers his self-esteem, and it was not until just now that I realised that perhaps his materialism was to make up for it.

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