Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Parenting in a Materialistic World

With the holidays quickly approaching, you may be spending a lot of your time thinking about and buying presents. If you are like many parents, you wonder if all this focus on material gifts might tend to make kids have a more materialistic mindset as adults. New research can shed some light on these questions.

A recent study examined 700 adults and asked them about how their parents used material goods in their parenting practices. In sum, three parenting practices were found to be associated with greater materialism:

- rewarding children with gifts

- giving gifts as a way of showing affection

- punishing children by taking away possessions

In the study materialism was defined as believing that success in life is defined by the number of material goods they owned. Interestingly, the authors also found a link between parental rejection and materialism. Individuals who said they felt their parents did not have time for them or were disappointed in them were more likely to rate higher on measures of materialism. This link is particularly interesting as it hints at the notion (although the research did not address this) that parents who were rejecting may have used material items as a substitute for spending time and establishing a warm relationship with their children.

This study, while informative, raises more questions than it answers. While most of us want to raise children who are not overly materialistic, I would imagine that many of us use material goods as rewards from time to time. The overall message I take away from this study is that material goods should not be the main "currency" in your relationship with your child. If much of your interaction is based on what the child needs to do to receive his/her next material reward, that could be problematic. Establishing a relationship with your child based on warmth, caring, and empathy seems to be the more effective way of approaching parenting.

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