How to Identify and Educate Materialistic Children

It's the job of parents and educators to teach materialistic children the true path to happiness. Keep reading to learn how.
How to Identify and Educate Materialistic Children
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 12 April, 2023

How does a child become materialistic? In today’s society, many people think that those who have more are happier. Also, they believe that having a better car or more money makes them superior to others. However, we’re very wrong in that regard and, as a result, children end up copying the behaviors of their reference figures (even the wrong ones) and acquire the same attitudes. As a result, there are more and more materialistic children.

Children come to think that the more things they have, the happier they’ll be. And this is partly our fault and partly the fault of the industry. A study conducted by Suzanna J. Opree, from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, has shown that the most materialistic children are less happy, while those who are less happy are more materialistic.

Children’s behaviors of wanting to possess at all costs can end up becoming an obsession and lead to unhappiness. So, why do children become so materialistic? And what can parents do to prevent their children from being like this? We’ll tell you all you need to know about materialistic children in the following article.

Why do children become materialistic?

Materialistic children believe that the more things they own, the happier they’ll be. Therefore, this becomes their main goal: Possessing more and more in order to achieve happiness. But why does a child become so materialistic?

A child watching TV.
Children want to have the toys shown in advertisements so they can feel the same emotions as the children on the screen. The industry uses this strategy to capture the attention of children.

Due to advertising

Advertising is one of the factors that contribute to materialistic children. Through it, child actors are seen using toys with bright colors and catchy music, while their faces display happiness. Then, when our little ones see this, they think that if they have those products, they’re also going to be happy.

We all know that this happiness is very short-lived, as soon as they discover that in the advertisement, it looked much more fun than it really is. However, they go on to see another advertisement and again they want the toy they see in it. This situation repeats itself over and over again.

From comparing themselves with other children

Another reason why children become materialistic is that they start to hang out and socialize with their peer group. As a result, they begin to compare themselves to see who has more or who has the best toy.

Seeking social acceptance

Low self-esteem, lack of attention, or feeling vulnerable makes children more prone to materialism. Children with these characteristics think that if they have more things, they’ll be more accepted and will get the happiness they couldn’t get otherwise.

An Asian pre-teen boy looking unhappily at a tablet lying on the floor.
If parents are materialistic, it’s likely that their children will be, too, as they’ll be raised that way.

Recommendations to prevent children from being materialistic

We all know that the environment in which a child lives and grows up will be decisive in the way they behave. In this regard, adults are their role models and examples to follow.

On the other hand, children may become materialistic, even if their parents aren’t, due to society. The consumerist values of society influence them from an early age. Here are some recommendations to avoid these situations:

  1. Sitting down as a family to watch TV: This way, you can talk to your children and explain to them that they have to be critical of what they watch. Not everything that’s shown on the screen is as wonderful in reality as it seems to be on TV.
  2. Playing sports: This is an activity that helps children to socialize, cooperate, and compete in a healthy way.
  3. Explain to them the difference between needing and wanting: Need a pair of sneakers because the ones you have are broken is one thing while wanting a toy that’s new on the market is another. You need the sneakers to be able to go out and walk, as you can’t go barefoot. However, the toy isn’t going to solve any problems.
  4. Spending quality family time: You can plan outings together with your children according to their tastes and preferences. These moments do bring happiness to your children. In fact, these moments together are the best gifts and experiences you can give them.
  5. Don’t use bribery to get children to behave well: Surely you’re familiar with phrases such as, “If you’re quiet and behave well, I’ll buy you a treat”. With this, what we do is get children used to behaving well in order to get the reward. In addition, it contributes to the raising of materialistic children.
  6. Limit the use of television: Prohibiting television altogether isn’t the idea, as it will only cause them to want it more. The idea is to choose content that provides useful information and knowledge. Of course, we must prevent them from being glued to the TV at all times, even if what they see is educational.

Educating materialistic children

Throughout this article, we’ve seen that both education and society can contribute to the development of materialistic children. If we use rewards and punishments, we lead children to focus more on the result than on the process. In this way, they’ll understand that through consumption and material rewards, they’ll achieve happiness.

It’s important that we educate children on values and the importance of “being” rather than “possessing”. When these values are lost, we raise children incapable of appreciating what’s really important in life and what can truly make them happy. It’s the job of parents and educators to teach them the way to happiness without so much need for material things.

“We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need, to impress people who don’t care about us.”

Will Smith-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Suzanna J. Opree, Moniek Buijzen and Patti M. Valkenburg. Lower Life Satisfaction Related to Materialism in Children Frequently Exposed to Advertising. Pediatrics
  • Buckingham, D. (2013). La infancia materialista. Crecer en la cultura consumista. Ediciones Morata.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.