Material World: Tips for Teaching Children that Things Aren’t Everything

In a world where one can get a date, food or household items with the tap of their smartphones, it's hard to not be slightly materialistic. Never before has there been a time when the world was so small. As the digital age continues to churn out on-demand service after on-demand service, many parents are looking for effective ways to raise non-materialistic children.

Understanding Materialism Problems
According to Christine Belaire, Ph.D., LPC-S, LMFT, NCC, the problem of materialism starts with the parents and ends with empathy training. 

"It begins with reflection. In general, we live in a materialistic society. You cannot separate what parents are doing from what children are doing, as the children will naturally mimic their parents’ actions. Teens are one of the biggest buying groups, so ads are likely to target them, as well as young adults," says Dr. Belaire. “To combat this, it would be practical for parents to say, ‘When you get something, give something.’ By doing this, it helps kids practice empathy by thinking outside of themselves. We know that empathy training works for anti-bullying, as it helps people recognize and help others–which is an effective tool. Teaching them to recognize someone else’s experience will work better compared to surface level advice.” 

In contrast, Alexandria Rosa, a mother of five, notes that the matter is more of a social issue than anything else.

“I think, as parents, we want our kids to be happy. I don’t really think it means we’re materialistic or teaching our kids to be materialistic. I know that I have no problem buying my son the latest electronics, so as long as he takes care of them. He knows that if he breaks or loses something expensive, it will be the last time that he enjoys that item. I also don’t buy him extra items when his grades are low or his behavior is poor. I personally think children and teens are wanting the latest and greatest items because they see their friends with them. It also starts with the child seeing their favorite musicians, actors or YouTube streamers with them.”

Breaking the Chain
Humans are inherently social creatures. So, whether they’re mimicking their parents or online personalities, how can parents hope to break the chain? 

For something as complex as this, the answer to materialism lies somewhere in the middle of saving and giving. As both Dr. Belaire and Rosa have noted, it is natural for teenagers to want things. 

Instead of simply buying your child the item that they want, make it an exchange. Teach them about saving money and the benefits that come with such practices. Perhaps make them practice donating an item when they get a new one so that they understand the value behind each thing. Sit down with them and talk to them about causes that they are passionate about. Teach them that the value of giving back doesn’t always have to be surrounded by items. 

Perhaps your teen likes animals and they want a new XBOX for the holiday season. Instead of asking them to mindlessly grab one of their old shirts and donate it, tell them that you will buy it for them if they donate one hour of their time at a local animal shelter. This will teach them the value of ethics, as well as the importance behind a simple exchange. 

When it comes to material items, it’s much more about premise behind each thing, rather than the thing itself. Since adolescents are still sponges, it might be easier to show them the act of giving back rather than to tell them about it.

Teaching Gratitude
With the holiday season rapidly approaching, the premise behind each gift should be more apparent. Some other things that parents can do to help their children understand the gift of giving can include encouraging experiences over items, as well as limiting advertisements. 

It is obvious that parents cannot keep teenagers off the Internet. However, as parents do monitor the type of content that their kids see, they can also monitor the advertisements. There are Google Chrome extensions, such as AdBlocker, which will block pop up ads from filtering through websites while your child is browsing the web. Such tools can really help you limit the number of targeted ads that might be reaching your teen while online.

Jessica, a mother of two, had this to say about the gift of giving: “You have to teach them gratitude. They may not always know the value of something, but it’s your job to make sure they understand how easily things can come and go.”

When practicing the act of giving this holiday season, simply remember there will always be white elephant gift exchanges, anniversaries, and Christmases. In a world that demands that we take, it is ultimately important that we take the time to remind our children to give in ways that are unique to their personalities. ■

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27 Nov 2019

By Elise Gray

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