Consumer-driven holidays and kids who are more concerned with stuff than other people seem to have become more commonplace in recent years. Research shows that I’m not the only one bothered by such behavior either. Many surveys show that a large majority of people think that more kids in general, or their own kids in particular, act too spoiled and materialistic.
That said, I think consumerism + kids is an important issue to share facts about, especially for parents interested in raising kids who value more than stuff. So, here are some facts about the growing problem of materialistic behavior in kids.
Kids are getting more selfish and becoming compulsive consumers
You may not like it, or want to admit that materialistic, spoiled kids are a problem, but research shows that this is a very real and growing problem, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere.
- National surveys show most parents feel like they’re raising overly selfish kids. 80% of respondents in a recent AOL/Time Warner poll said kids in America are more spoiled than kids of ten or fifteen years ago, while 2/3 of all parents admitted that their kids are indeed too spoiled.
- A study in the spring of 2007 reported an increase of narcissism (caring much more about oneself than others) of 30% over the past twenty years.
- According to a national survey commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream, American children aged 12 to 17 will ask their parents for products they have seen advertised an average of nine times until the parents finally give in, with 55% of kids saying their parents will eventually give in. Worse, among 12- to 13-year-olds, 62% say that buying certain products makes them feel better about themselves.
- University of Arizona marketing researcher Lan Nguyen Chaplin notes that adolescents today have been characterized as the most materialistic generation in history.
- When Dan Kindlon, author of Too Much of a Good Thing, interviewed more than 1,000 parents, and roughly 650 teenagers, he found that 60% of parents thought their kids were spoiled, and 15% of the teens themselves said they were spoiled.
- A survey by the Millward Brown global market research agency shows that 8- to 12-year-olds in America are more materialistic than anywhere else in the world. 75 % desire to be “rich,” and kids here in the U.S. are more likely to believe that their clothes and brands describe who they are and define their social status.
- Commercial Free Childhood notes that a national survey by Consumer Focus found that 63% of parents believed that their children define their self-worth in terms of what they own.
- Commercial Free Childhood also notes that over half of children surveyed say they would be happier if they had more money to buy more things for themselves. Nearly that many say the only kind of job they want when they grow up is one that pays a lot.
- Parents are more and more frequently basing their worth as parents on the stuff they can afford to buy vs.the lessons and time they impart. For example, a major UNICEF study shows that many parents have trapped themselves, and their children in a cycle of “compulsive consumerism.” As another, fairly horrifying example, here’s one mother’s account of how, although she earns fair wages and owns two homes, she’s super worried about being able to afford the luxury holiday her kids deserve. This mom goes on to wish that she could do things differently, and have a less-stuffed based holiday but worries that her kids can’t handle less gifts at Christmas and won’t like her anymore if she fails to buy plenty of gifts.
- Research shows that kids under 14 years of age spend about $40 billion annually on material goods, while teens spend about $159 billion a year – most of it, their parents money.
What’s wrong with kids who are materialistic?
It’s the American dream to want more right. If that’s true, then what’s so wrong with being materialistic and having lots of stuff? A lot as it turns out.
- Researchers on a major study about selfishness noted that narcissistic individuals are more likely to be overcontrolling and exhibit violent behaviors and dishonesty than less narcissistic folks. Research also shows that materialistic kids are less happy, more prone to depression, have lower self-esteem and report more symptoms of anxiety.
- Kids who are overly materialistic tend to engage in fewer positive environmental behaviors such as reusing paper, and using less water while showering.
- During one study, researchers presented kids with a pretend windfall of cash. The more materialistic children exhibited less generosity and said they’d allocate less money to charity than kids less concerned with stuff.
- Lastly, plenty of research shows that selfish, consumer-driven kids cause family stress, sibling stress and parental stress.
Plus there’s behavioral issues
As George Cohen, MD, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on the psychosocial aspects of child and family health, points out, “What’s spoiled for one parent may not be for another.” However, there are clearly some recognizable poor behaviors associated with overly consumer-minded kids.
Below are some behaviors of materialistic kids that I’ve noticed, plus some selfishness traits that researchers and other parents on the web have pointed out…
- Making huge wish-lists of gifts for holiday events that aren’t negotiable.
- Buying stuff impulsively without giving purchases any thought.
- Placing value on what things cost, not the thought of the gift.
- Breaking or loosing stuff they own without regret.
- Zero expectations of having to help cover the costs of new items.
- Nagging parents over and over about specific products.
- Not willing to help out without being paid or bribed – say with chores.
- Stealing – studies show stealing is much more common among selfish kids than other kids.
- Not saying thank you when they receive a gift.
- Getting angry when things don’t go their way.
- Lack of respect for parents, family, friends and so on, unless they’re out to get something.
- Not getting others gifts of their own accord – having to be nagged to give.
- Often acts jealous of what others have.
- Acting entitled to everything they want and not acting gracious.
- Low self-esteem or placing worth on stuff they own.
- Saying stuff like, “Is that all I get?” or “How come so and so got more presents than I did?“
- Complaining about the gifts they get behind someone’s back or literally to their face.
- Making fun of people who get them, “shoddy gifts” or “cheap gifts.“
- Not spending time with others on holidays other than to collect gifts.
- Putting their own needs before others at most or all times.
- Disinterest in any holiday event than involves activity or family time.
- Having a disposable mentality – i.e. so what if stuff breaks, you can always get more.
This affects how kids are treated by others too
No one wants to be around a kid who acts this way. Behavior like this is especially frustrating around the holidays, but can be annoying year-round too. A poor outcome of allowing a kid to act like this is that their behaviors do keep others at a distance. Additonally, if a child is raised in such a way that consumerism and selfish behaviors are okay, they may believe these traits are perfectly fine for the rest of their life.
This is a huge disadvantage to your kids
Some parents think that they’re helping their kids by giving them a million gifts and fulfilling their every holiday or life whim. But these aren’t good parenting practices.
Holidays are supposed to be magical and fun. When you allow holidays to become all about stuff and greed they’re no longer magical, surprising or fun for anyone.
Seriously, what’s the point of all this stuff? Excess stuff simply 100% hardens kids against any sort of real holiday or life meaning beyond having more, more, more. Kid who fail to see meaning in family or celebration beyond what they can get, will likely pass these traits on to their own future children, thus ensuring that a nice cycle of commercial, consumerism driven behavior will continue.
Coming up I’ll have some tips about how have a less consumer driven holiday (and life). For now, if you need tips about how to stop this sort of madness, read the following:
- Green Consumer Tips for Kids & Teens!
- Parents need to avoid commercialism along with kids
- Commercialism Makes Growing Green Kids Harder
- The Greedy Kid Cure
- Can you cure your kids’ ‘gimmes’?
- Teaching children to be grateful and generous
- Experts tell parents how to decode the spoiled child
- Making the Holidays Less Materialistic
- Selfishness in Children – plus a quiz to see how your child stacks up
- Attitude Makeover: Selfish