The 3 Parenting Strategies That Cause Kids to Become Materialistic

Spoiling a child at a young age could cause her to become a materialistic adult.
Charlotte Nation / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Today’s abundant world makes it difficult at times to avoid giving your child too much stuff. Most households have overflowing closets and overstuffed toy chests filled with hundreds--if not thousands--of dollars’ worth of stuff.

There comes a point where many parents decide enough is enough. But pairing down and cutting back isn’t always easy.

But giving kids too much stuff isn’t healthy. In fact, overindulged kids may experience lifelong consequences. They grow up to become dissatisfied and narcissistic adults.

And it’s not just the expensive toys that are causing children to become overindulged. Many of today’s young people are overscheduled and underworked. They have time for basketball practice and piano lessons but they aren’t doing chores.

Studies have found that materialistic kids often turn out to be materialistic adults. And that can have serious consequences. Materialism has been linked to unhappiness during adulthood.

Beliefs that Lead Kids to Become Materialistic

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research discovered that children who became materialistic adopted two main beliefs:

  • Success is defined by the quality and number of material good an individual owns
  • Acquiring certain products makes people more attractive

Of course, most parents don’t instill those beliefs in children on purpose. Instead, children develop those beliefs based on their parents’ parenting style and discipline practices, as well as what’s been role modeled in their home.

Parenting Practices that Promote Materialism

Researchers have found that three main parenting practices that contribute to materialistic beliefs in children:

  1. Rewarding children for their accomplishments. Paying your child for good grades or promising her a new smartphone if she does well in soccer may teach her that material goods are the ultimate goal.
  2. Giving gifts as a way to show affection. Showering your child with gifts as a token of your love may teach him that being loved means getting presents. 
  3. Punishing children by taking away their possessions. Sending the message that being separated from your belongings is a punishment could teach kids that they need their material possessions to feel good.

Parent / Child Relationships

The study found that warm, loving parents often contributed to a materialistic attitude. But, children who grew up in homes where they felt rejected were also likely to be materialistic.

A child who felt his parents were disappointed in him, for example, may seek comfort in his material possessions. Or, a child who doesn’t spend a lot of time with his parents may cope with loneliness by using his toys and electronics.

How to Decrease Materialism

The good news is, you don’t have to deprive your child in order to prevent her from becoming materialistic. Clearly, it’s healthy to give your child gifts within a reason.

It’s also a good idea to take away privileges. And sometimes, the most logical consequence may mean taking away your child’s prized possessions, like a smartphone or a bicycle. But it’s important to make sure that it’s not the only negative consequence you ever impose.

But, there are a few steps you can take to buffer a sense of entitlement in today’s world:

  • Foster gratitude. Teaching your child to be grateful for what she has will prevent her from thinking she can’t be happy unless she has more.
  • Focus on quality time. Rather than giving your child gifts, participate in simple activities together. Take a walk, play in the park, or play board games together.
  • Role model generosity. Your child will learn a lot more from your actions, rather than your words. Show your child that you’re a kind and giving person who values people over things.

It takes a concerted effort to instill healthy values in your child. Make sure you're giving your child healthy messages that will help her grow up to become a responsible, happy adult.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • References
  • Burroughs, J. E., & Rindfleisch, A. (2002). Materialism and Well‐Being: A Conflicting Values Perspective. Journal of Consumer Research29(3), 348–370.
  • Richins, M. L., & Chaplin, L. N.. (2015). Material Parenting: How the Use of Goods in Parenting Fosters Materialism in the Next Generation. Journal of Consumer Research41(6), 1333–1357.