Parenting Solutions: Materialistic (page 4)
Is greedy and unsatisfied, unappreciative and ungrateful, overly brand conscious; bases her self-worth on what she owns; always wants more; spends impulsively
The Change to Parent For
Your child recognizes that what she owns does not bring happiness, puts a stronger value on relationships, and reduces her emphasis on material goods.
Question: "My son is six but already has a list of all the brand names and can quote almost every TV commercial for the stuff he wants us to buy for him. How can parents counter materialism in such a consumption-driven world?"
Answer: Television commercials have been proven to fuel materialism, so your first important task is to reduce the influence of those ads on your child's perceptions. Here are a few simple solutions. Hit the mute button on your television remote and talk to your child whenever those commercials are on. Turn him toward more commercial-free television shows, or even TiVo his "have-to-see" favorite so he can cut out the commercials altogether (you can teach him how) and fast-forward to the show. And teach your child how to resist those marketer's messages by playing the "What are they trying to sell?" game the second a commercial airs. Once kids learn that the motive of those ads is all about company profit and not their benefit, the product's desirability suddenly drops. And if a celebrity is the product's spokesperson, don't miss the chance to say, "I wonder how much she got paid to do that ad?" Helping our kids become more media literate may be the one strategy we've overlooked to curb their materialism.
One Simple Solution
Turn Off the TV (No Kidding!)
Did you know that the average American child is exposed to forty thousand advertising messages each year and that corporations spend $15 billion annually advertising and marketing to kids up to age twelve?45 Research also shows that the fewer commercials kids see, the less materialistic they become. When kids' TV viewing was cut by one-third, they were 70 percent less likely than their peers to ask parents for a toy the following week.46 So monitor your kids' TV time, steer their viewing habits toward public television, pop in a video, or simply turn off the TV!
In one poll, 89 percent of adults reported feeling that today's youth are far more materialistic and consumption-driven at much younger ages than previous generations.47 In fact, two-thirds of mothers say that their kids ask for specific brands before the age of three.48 Of course, raising kids in such a materialistic world, with advertisers constantly taunting children to buy-buy-buy, doesn't make matters easier. But let's face it: the biggest reason our kids are so darn materialistic is that we've allowed it. We've obliged their every whim, bought them only the best name brands, and tried motivating them to "do good" by rewarding them with possessions.
Sure, we do it because we want our kids to be happy and have what they desire, but the latest research shows that our good intentions are backfiring. Instead of being satisfied, kids with the materialism bug only want more and are actually less happy and less content. But even more dangerous: materialism also shatters our kids' character, sense of well-being, and outlook on life. If you're worried that your child is a little too brand conscious or materialistic, then it's time to change that attitude. This entry offers solutions to deprogram your child's materialistic streak and teach new habits that inspire charity and generosity, and help her be more appreciative of the nonmaterial everyday wonders of life.
Pay Attention to This!
Researchers say that today's American kids are "the most brand-oriented, consumer-involved, and materialistic generation in history, and top the list globally."49 Here are a few red flags about the growing spread of materialism in kids:
- More U.S. kids than anywhere in the world believe that their clothes and brands describe who they are and define their social status.50
- Ninety-five percent of adults say that kids are too focused on buying and consuming things.51
- Two out of three parents surveyed said that their kids measure self-worth more by possessions than the parents did at the same age.52
So how are your kids faring? If you're at all concerned about an unflattering trait called "materialism" taking hold of your kid, then it may be time for a serious parenting intervention.
Signs and Symptoms
Five problems—Brands Everywhere, Never-Ending Stuff, Exterior Focus, Selfish Self, and Unhappy Greed—best describe materialistic kids. Begin by thinking of your child's typical daily actions, then read the following descriptions. If even one description fits your child, it can mean that your child is slipping to the dark side of materialism. Once you recognize the signs and symptoms, you'll be in a better position to parent for change.
- Brands Everywhere. Corporations and companies work night and day to keep their brands permanently stamped on our children's consciousness. The child is a walking, talking expert on brand names. Her desires become based solely on product name, brand, or logo and not on quality or even price considerations.
- Never-Ending Stuff. The child is a consummate consumer and knows the total number of CDs, shoes, books, and any other "commodity" in her possession and announces it with pride. She rarely needs the newest item of desire—she just wants it.
- Exterior Focus. The child evaluates people and situations based strictly on exterior appearances. What matters is what they're carrying or wearing, their clothes, gadgets, or accessories. Internal qualities and traits are overlooked and irrelevant.
- Selfish Self. The child doesn't stop to consider that you may be stressed or inconvenienced by the price of the item. Everything is about her needs and desires for possessions. How hard you worked to pay for that privilege or possession is never considered. Who cares if those designer jeans cost the same as your two-week grocery bill?
- Unhappy Greed. Despite everything she owns and all that you give her, deep down your child is really not content, satisfied, or happy and just plain wants more. It's the old and true saying: the more you get, the more you want.
Step 1. Early Intervention
- Identify the reason. There is no gene for materialism, so where is your kid getting this desperate greedy streak? Your first task is to identify that reason. Check those items that apply to your child or situation:
- Is there an emphasis on materialism in your home? Do brand names have status in your home?
- Have her whims been too easily granted? Are you bribing her with stuff to do something or behave?
- Are you keeping up with the Joneses by bombarding her with things she doesn't need because you see your friends doing the same thing with their kids?
- Does she feel that the way to gain peer acceptance is by having the latest fashions or gadgets?
- Are all those TV commercials impacting her perceptions?
- Has a grandparent or other member of the family overindulged her?
- Model restraint. You're the best role model for helping your child cope with our complicated material world: What kind of example are you setting for your kid? Would you say that your typical day-to-day behavior is teaching your kid to be materialistic or charitable? Would your kid say that you demonstrate the idea that "It's not what you own but what you are"? Is she seeing you behave with restraint? Or might she be witnessing someone who wants what she sees and buys it on a whim? Are you stressing that it's what's "inside" that counts? Or might she see you flaunting your acquisitions, talking name brands, and always thinking about what you own and wear? Research shows that parents who are materialistic raise the most materialistic kids.55 Be the model you want your kids to copy.
- Dig deeper. Is your kid a little depressed, shy, or lonely? Sometimes kids crave possessions to fulfill an emotional need. So watch for what is triggering your kid's materialistic urges, then dig a bit deeper to see if there's something more psychological behind the desire. For instance, ask your son, who never used to care about music, why he suddenly wants an iPod. If his answer is that his two best friends have one, so he has to keep up with the crowd, then you know it's time to boost self-esteem or use other techniques to buck peer pressure, not just cure his Band-Aid-level gimmes.
- Spend more time than money on your kids. A study shows that materialistic kids go on shopping outings with their parents far more than their less materialistic counterparts.56 Be honest: How many of your family outings stress nonmaterial values? Make a conscious effort to spend time together doing things that don't cost a dime: go to the park and the museum, take bike rides, build forts, bake cookies, watch the clouds, play Monopoly. Try not to give your child things as a substitute for spending time with her.
- Boost self-esteem. Research shows that the more materialistic the kid, the lower her self-esteem.57 And parents are often the biggest saboteurs. By caving into our kids' whims for clothes and electronics, we actually suppress their self-regard by sending the superficial message that their identity is in what they have—not who they are. After a while, our kids adopt that belief. But the researchers also found you can turn that message around by giving well-earned compliments that focus on such qualities as "smart" or "fun." Doing so reduced kids' materialistic tendencies immediately. So downplay appearance and possessions and emphasize your child's unique strengths and qualities. Just make sure that your compliments stress things that can't be purchased, such as sportsmanship, kindness, artistic, humor, or responsibility. That way your child's self-regard will come from those inside qualities she recognizes in herself instead of what she owns and wears.
- Rotate stuff. Materialistic children take pride in owning "stuff," and from their perspective, whoever owns the most wins. Instead of letting your child view her stockpile of matchbox cars, action figures, CDs, or whatever, store some away in a closet for a week or month. After all, she really doesn't use all those things—she just counts them. Your new rule is that when stowed items are returned, others are stored in their place. The simple solution of rotating stuff makes bedroom cleanups easier and helps kids learn they don't need so much to have a good time. Best yet, the returned items are more appreciated and treated like new. (Of course, the simpler solution is just not letting your kid buy all that stuff in the first place.)
Step 2. Rapid Response
- Don't fulfill every request. How do you typically respond to your child's materialistic demands? Do you give in to your kid's desires and let her have her way? Talk to her about her materialistic attitude or ignore the request? Set a consequence or warn her what will happen if she continues her greediness? Always giving in to your kid's materialistic desires doesn't do her any favors. Say no to unending whims and consumer demands, even if that provokes tantrums at first. And do so without feeling guilty. Simply explain your concerns and the reason for your new policy, but most important: do not give in.
- Curb those rewards. "I'll do it if you'll buy me those jeans." "How much will you give me?" "But I wanted the Xbox!" If you've heard those words from your kid, chances are she's been rewarded with monetary prizes and material possessions for behaving, working, or just breathing. Watch out: materialistic kids keep upping the ante, wanting more and pricier things. From this moment on, your new response is to just expect your child to do the job or behave without compensation. And instead of rewarding her with things or money (which only exacerbates materialism), give praise, hugs, and pats on the back whenever they are earned. No, she's not going to be happy with the new policy, but so be it.
- Highlight people, not things. Materialistic kids often believe that having stuff is superior to relationships. Reframing that notion will take your consistent, committed effort, but start by looking for experiences involving your child that stress people over things. Then point out to your child the emotional impact: "You looked like you really enjoyed spending the day with Grandma. She sure loved being with you. Those are the kind of times you'll remember forever." "Dad really appreciated your handmade card. It's so much more meaningful than something you buy. Did you see his expression?"
- Teach how to reduce the clutter and curb hoarding. Materialistic kids tend to be pack rats, and the more stuff they stockpile, the better. It's time to break your child's hoarding habit. Start by giving your child three boxes labeled with one of these words: "Trash" (for ripped, torn, or broken items); "Memories" (items with special meaning); and "Charity" (gently used toys, accessories, or clothing that other kids may appreciate and she doesn't). Then encourage her to go through her drawers, closets, and shelves. Explain that she should keep what she really needs, uses, and wears, and put the rest into the specified box. Make sure that she comes with you when you take the charity box to an organization such as Goodwill, Red Cross, or the Salvation Army to realize that not everyone is so fortunate. You're teaching a great organizational habit that your child should use at least four times a year. But you're also helping her identify possessions by sentiment and not just price, and instilling generosity.
- Prioritize waiting. One solution to stop impulsive "have to have it" spending urges is to make your child wait before buying the latest object of desire. The waiting period can be one hour, day, week, or month depending on your child's age and maturity, but it gives kids time to think if they really, really need the purchase. If your child loses interest before the time is up, even she will probably agree that she didn't really want the item after all.
Step 3. Develop Habits for Change
- Pass on your "no-frill" policy. Enlist the aid of friends and grandparents who often delight in "spoiling" your child with stuff by encouraging them to scale down on lavish present buying at birthdays or holidays. Suggest they give money for your child's education fund or gifts that would cultivate your child's hobbies or talents or their relationship with your kid. The more you all stick together with your response, the more effective you will be in curbing your kid's materialistic streak.
- Stress the deeper value of things. Help your child value objects not for their cost or how trendy they are but for their inherent quality. "This is a great skateboard because it's so sturdy and will last a long time." Emphasize sentiment over cost: "This chair means a lot to me because it was Grandma's when she was little." Your child may not begin to adopt your reasoning right away, but over time she'll see that popularity, appearance, and high price tags aren't the only factors that make objects lovable.
- Teach ways to buck peer pressure. Kids admit to feeling pressured to keep up with the latest trends in order to fit in and be accepted. And it plays a role their materialistic attitudes.58 So teach comeback lines to prepare your child to counter a peer who is pressuring her to buy, buy, buy. For example: "Not today," "I'll think about it." "I have to save my money." "I really don't need it." "Why don't you buy it?" "Nope. It's really not me." "I don't have enough money." Then help your child practice the lines until she can deliver them with a strong, determined voice. Meanwhile, steer your kid and her friends out of malls or off Internet sites where the temptation to buy is strong.
- Teach the habit of giving not getting. "Hands-on" giving helps counter materialism more powerfully than almost anything else and helps gel that essential life lesson that it really is better to give than to receive. So take your kids with you to bring dinner to a sick neighbor or to volunteer in a soup kitchen. Require your kids to give part of their weekly allowance to needy kids. Choose a cause as a family—for example, adopting an orphan through Save the Children or befriending a lonely neighbor. Point out your child's charitable gestures so that she realizes the impact of her straight-from-the-heart, no-cost deeds: "Grandpa loved your painting. He really appreciated your gift—much more than if you had bought something—because he knew it took time."
What To Expect By Stages And Ages
Preschooler Kids are already "bonded to brands" by age three;59 the average kindergartener can identify the logos of over three hundred brands. Preschoolers make their desires known by grabbing things off store shelves and whining or begging for certain name-brand toys or products.
School Age Materialistic urges are motivated now by a basic desire for fun toys, an increasing awareness of what other kids have, and the desire to fit in by having the same things themselves. Viewing ads on TV fuels commercial urges. Their questions to peers after the holidays, birthdays, or vacations shift from "What did you do?" to "What did you get?" Materialism increases significantly between ages eight and nine.60
Tween Materialism rises sharply during the tween years when peer pressure and the need to fit in and be accepted are strongest. Materialism increases most dramatically when kids are between twelve and thirteen years of age,61 and then begins to taper off and drop. Tweens believe that their clothes and brands describe who they are and define their peer status; a ten-year old has memorized almost four hundred brands;62 75 percent of kids this age want to be rich;63 36 percent of tweens feel pressure from peers to shoplift.64 Those tweens with lower self-esteem tend to be significantly more materialistic than those with higher self-regard.
One Parent's Answer
A mom from Charlotte shares:
Birthday parties in our town were becoming extravaganzas with clowns, magicians, nd ponies, not to mention the huge, extravagant presents we're all supposed to bring. Each parent tried to outdo the last. The wake-up call was when we noticed our kids were complaining that the party favors were cheap. I invited five moms for coffee, and we agreed to call a moratorium on frivolous party spending. Gifts were capped to a certain price, and parties were to feature the birthday kid and not the stuff. What a difference it made on our kids. They started talking about the fun time they had and not about the price of the gifts and favors.
More Helpful Advice
Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, by Juliet Schor
Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers, by Alissa Quart
Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children from the Onslaught of Marketing and Advertising, by Susan Linn
Kidnapped: How Irresponsible Marketers Are Stealing the Minds of Your Children, by Daniel Acuff
Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes, by Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown
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