How to avoid raising a materialistic child

October 19, 2018

If you're a parent, you may be concerned that materialism among children has been on the rise. According to research, materialism has been linked to a variety of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, as well as selfish attitudes and behaviors.

But there's some good news. A new study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology suggests that some parenting tactics can curb kids' materialistic tendencies.

"Our findings show that it is possible to reduce materialism among young consumers, as well as one of its most common negative consequences (nongenerosity) using a simple strategy -- fostering gratitude for the things and people in their lives," writes researcher Lan Nguyen Chaplin, associate professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of the study.

After studying a nationwide sample of more than 900 adolescents ages 11 to 17, Chaplin's team found a link between fostering gratitude and its effects on materialism, suggesting that having and expressing gratitude may possibly decrease materialism and increase generosity among adolescents.

The team surveyed 870 adolescents and asked them to complete an online eight-item measure of materialism assessing the value placed on money and material goods, and a four-item measure of gratitude assessing how thankful they are for people and possessions in their lives.

The researchers then conducted an experiment among 61 adolescents and asked them to complete the same four-item gratitude measure from the first study and an eight-item materialism measure. The adolescents were randomly assigned to keep a daily journal for two weeks. One group was asked to record who and what they were thankful for each day by keeping a gratitude journal, and the control group was asked to record their daily activities.

After two weeks, the journals were collected and the participants completed the same gratitude and materialism measures as before. The kids were then given 10 $1 bills for participating and told they could keep all the money or donate some or all of it to charity.

Results showed that participants who were encouraged to keep a gratitude journal showed a significant decrease in materialism and increase in gratitude. The control group, which kept the daily activity journal, retained their pre-journal levels of gratitude and materialism.

In addition, the group that kept a gratitude journal was more generous than the control group. Adolescents, who were in the experimental group, wrote about who and what they were thankful for and donated more than two-thirds of their earnings. Those who were in the control group and simply wrote about their daily activities donated less than half of their earnings.

"The results of this survey study indicate that higher levels of gratitude are associated with lower levels of materialism in adolescents across a wide range of demographic groups," Chaplin noted.

The authors also suggest that materialism can be curbed and feelings of gratitude can be enhanced by a daily gratitude reflection around the dinner table, having children and adolescents make posters of what they are grateful for, or keeping a "gratitude jar" where children and teens write down something they are grateful for each week, while countering materialism.
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Coauthors of the study include Deborah Roedder John, University of Minnesota; Aric Rindfleisch, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Jeffrey Froh, Hofstra University.

The research was conducted at Villanova University. Lan Nguyen Chaplin is now at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

University of Illinois at Chicago

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