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Why Are Teens Materialistic?

by Laura Agadoni, studioD

Some teens seem to care only about what kinds of shoes, clothing and jewelry to wear, what types of cars to drive and which technologies to have. In fact, 71 percent of teens are materialistic and said they’d be happier if they had “more money to spend on themselves,” according to a 2007 survey reported by Reuters. It can be troubling for parents to witness their child valuing material items more than they value learning and becoming a better person.

Low Self-Esteem

Many parents blame materialism on advertisers, but doing so might be misguided, according to a 2006 study conducted by marketing professors at the University of Illinois. They found that children with low self-esteem were more likely to be materialistic. Low self-esteem kids used material items to make them happy, but high self-esteem kids received happiness through friendships, being good at sports and by helping people.

Parents Set Up the Expectation

Teens aren’t born materialistic; they’re made that way. One likely culprit would be the parents. Dr. Phil McGraw of the “Dr. Phil” TV show highlighted an extremely materialistic teen on one of his shows. She had overindulgent parents, and told Dr. Phil, “Ever since I was little, my mom has bought me anything that I could ask for.” Her father felt his role as “Daddy” meant buying anything he could for his daughter.

Portraying an Image

Many teens have a strong desire to fit in with their peer groups. They believe one way to do so is to have the same material items the other kids have. If they don’t, they fear being ousted and alone. Teens often manipulate their parents by letting them know they need certain material items to fit in. Wanting happiness for their children, parents acquiesce out of guilt.

Brain Not Developed

Once your teen becomes used to getting what she wants, she tends to want more and more, not appreciating what she does have. She doesn’t typically think about consequences such as an arrested development from focusing on material items instead of developing her brain, finding out who she is and what she can give to the world. She may be unaware that her constant demands might cause financial difficulties for you, and she might not realize her selfishness.

Shocking Hong Kong Study

A paper published in the November 2011 edition of the “Scientific World Journal” found that one-third of materialistic Hong Kong teens would engage in unethical activities to get money to buy stuff. The unethical behavior included “compensated dating,” being a companion for money, with 34 percent of survey respondents saying they would consider doing that. Of the teens who already engaged in compensated dating, almost 17 percent entered a sexual relationship.

What Parents Can Do

Spend time having fun with your children instead of buying them things to make them happy. Take them to the park or a museum for an outing instead of to the mall. Encourage your teen to join a club where the focus is not on what the members have but what they do. Get your teen involved in community service such as helping at a soup kitchen or a pet rescue.

About the Author

Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.

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