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Helping Your Kids Avoid the Trap of Materialism

Gary Gilles, LCPC

Walk down the cereal aisle of the typical supermarket and you can be easily overwhelmed by the vast number of options you have available for your breakfast fare. It's amazing how many ways toasted wheat, oat or corn can be packaged and sold. But is this abundance of choice a benefit or liability when it comes to purchasing only what we need? Generally speaking, the more choices we have, the greater our consumption.

wants versus needs written on post-itsThe problem though goes beyond the shear number of material goods that beg for our ownership. The root of the problem is the mentality we bring to our purchasing behavior. We accumulate unnecessary possessions because we feel entitled to them for our hard work. Or, we buy into ubiquitous advertising messages that that tells us we "need" a particular item. But as our closets, basements and garages bulge from consumptive habits our children are taking mental notes.

Our children are taking their cues from us

A survey was conducted several years ago of youth from seventy cities in more than fifteen countries. The results from our country showed that 75% of U.S. tweens (children ages 8-12) want to be rich; 61% want to be famous; and the majority of kids in the U.S. believe the brand of their clothes describe who they are. If these findings can be generalized to other young people in our country, it would appear many are already entrenched in materialistic values.

Our possessions, like money, can become a form of security; the more we own, the more secure we feel. But if you want to instill a non-materialistic mentality in your kids you need to have an alternate reference point to work from. Should we derive our security from our possessions or the amount in our bank account? That is largely the message we get from our consumeristic culture. Are those your values and the values you want your children to unconsciously buy into?

In the 21st century most people in the U.S. live with the great amount of excess: food, gadgets, clothes, and general "stuff." But what if we deliberately chose to buy and accumulate less? How would it change our lives? For example, if we passed on purchasing the latest gadgets, watched less television, played fewer video games or cut back our online time, we could free up time that could be used for conversation, reading, outdoor activities and creative hobbies. It may surprise you to learn that surveys and self-reports have indicated that what children really want more than "stuff" is time - with parents, friends, and extended family.

Making your parental mark

Whether we like it or not, our materialistic culture is here to stay. But, the point of this post is to encourage you think about whether your current consumeristic habits reflect the values you want to instill in your children as they grow? If so, then you have the satisfaction of knowing that you are living according to your values. But, if you are merely drifting down the stream of popular culture buying and consuming in step with everyone else without giving it much thought, perhaps it's time to stop and reflect.

In order to effectively teach our children to keep a loose grip on their possessions, live with less and be generous, we must first model that lifestyle for them. This means thinking through our own relationship with material things with a willingness to make changes if any are needed. When our actions match our words, it becomes a powerful example for our children to follow.