Sunday, January 3, 2010

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A few days ago, I got a call from my friend Marg who told me she was furious with her 15-year-old daughter. “You will never believe what Shelia told me!”

“We were out shopping. Getting a winter coat and shoes, which she needed. Then she had the gall to tell me she needed more clothes. We had done the back-to-school shopping thing only a few months ago. She didn’t need more clothes.” In addition, Marg had two other children to “dress” for school.

Shelia told Marg, “Mom, I need to have a six-week-rotation.”

Marg couldn’t help wondering why her child’s concept of material goods had gone so far askew.
“What’s a six-week-rotation?” I asked.

Exasperated, Marg explained. “It means she wants to wear an outfit once every six weeks.”
Is something terribly wrong with that picture?

If you want proof this is NOT an isolated incident, all you have to do is turn on your TV set. Shows like Gossip Girl, The Hills, Housewives and My Super Sweet 16 tell the same story and give teens the same message. “More is better.”

You might recall my mention of some My Super Sweet 16 princesses and their unrealistic requests—requests that were fulfilled by their parents.

Remember Priscilla? She went to the dentist to remove her braces before the big event to the tune of $1,000, only to put them back on again the following week.

Then there was the soon-to-be 16-year-old who was allotted $300,000 to plan her party. And another who trekked cross country to purchase the perfect party dress for $8,200. What about the girl who hails from Memphis? Her parents gave her a custom $125,000+ Hummer. She wanted to add a chandelier.

Yes, something is terribly wrong with that picture.

Marg and I are not the only ones who think this. Researcher/Marketing Professor, Deborah Roedder John (University of Minnesota) believes materialism is directly tied to self-esteem.

"The level of materialism in teens is directly driven by self-esteem," said John. "When self-esteem drops as children enter adolescence, materialism peaks. Then by late adolescence, when self-esteem rebounds, their materialism drops." In a radio interview John explained materialism in teens is a coping mechanism.

An interesting study conducted by Harris Interactive (2006) in which John was involved surveyed 1,213 U.S. tweens and teens. The results showed children ages 8 to 18 really love to buy things. So much so that “buying things” is at the top of their list of things they love to do. Seventy-one percent reported they would be happier, if only they had more money to buy more things.

If we accept John’s contention—that a child’s opinion of him or her self is the driving force behind materialism—we have a means to counter. Plus, we also understand as a child grows older (and thus becomes more self assured), this over-the-top desire to shop and buy will hopefully lessen.

Quite possibly, your child’s biggest challenge is how she views and criticizes herself. Being able to re-direct this type of self-deprecating behavior is a major step in the right direction.

And it can’t hurt to keep an open dialogue going about what things costs and how much time it takes to earn, say $300. “I have to work all day to pay for that.”

We can help our children value themselves more, help them discover and use their strengths. Just like an adult, a child finds more self value when helping others and being productive.

Allyn Evans
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