How to avoid raising a materialistic child

October 12, 2018, University of Illinois at Chicago
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

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 University of Illinois at Chicago 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 for the things and people in their lives," writes researcher Lan Nguyen Chaplin, UIC associate professor of marketing and lead author of the study.

After studying a nationwide sample of more than 900 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 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 .

Explore further: Are your kids thankful?

More information: Lan Nguyen Chaplin et al. The impact of gratitude on adolescent materialism and generosity, The Journal of Positive Psychology (2018). DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2018.1497688

Related Stories

Are your kids thankful?

November 24, 2016
(HealthDay)—Thanksgiving is the perfect time for parents to teach their children about gratitude, an expert says.

Sense of gratitude counters life dissatisfaction in psychological study

March 25, 2015
Everyone knows that money can't buy happiness – but what might make rich people happier is revealed in the current issue of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Certain parenting tactics could lead to materialistic attitudes in adulthood

December 16, 2014
With the holiday season in full swing and presents piling up under the tree, many parents may be tempted to give children all the toys and gadgets they ask for or use the expectation of gifts to manage children's behavior. ...

Writing a 'thank you' note is more powerful than we realize, study shows

August 28, 2018
New research from The University of Texas at Austin proves writing letters of gratitude, like Jimmy Fallon's "Thank You Notes," is a pro-social experience people should commit to more often. The gesture improves well-being ...

Gratitude, not 'gimme,' makes for more satisfaction, study finds

April 1, 2014
People who are materialistic are more likely to be depressed and unsatisfied, in part because they find it harder to be grateful for what they have, according to a study by Baylor researchers.

Recommended for you

Suicide risk in abused teen girls linked to mother-daughter conflict

October 18, 2018
Teenage girls who were maltreated as children are more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts if the relationship with their mother is poor and the degree of conflict between the two of them high.

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Study suggests biological basis for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances in older adults

October 15, 2018
UC San Francisco researchers, in collaboration with the unique Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, have shown that the earliest stages of the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer's ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anonym518498
1 / 5 (1) Oct 13, 2018
Is this a joke? Gratitude jar? These people have so many gizmos they can't keep up with them, they spend like there's no tomorrow, they trash everything in sight, another study that's a waste of taxpayer money

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.