Materialism

Q. My daughters are in middle school. I don’t know if this is because of where we live, but they have become extremely label-conscious. One daughter insists on buying only certain brands of jeans that are incredibly over-priced, and the other feels the same way about her accessories. When I suggest more reasonable alternatives, they both act as if they couldn’t possibly be seen wearing anything else! I know other parents who are upset about this materialism, too. What can we do about it?

Many girls in middle school become conspicuous consumers, much to their parents’ chagrin. However, it’s possible to get through these years without losing your mind—or your life savings. First, it’s helpful to understand what drives this materialism. Two things, actually. The first is adolescence, which is all about figuring out an identity and forming a self-image. At this stage, girls’ top priorities are typically looking cool and fitting in enough that they are socially accepted. The second component is marketers, who capitalize on adolescent peer pressure by targeting young people and encouraging their loyalty to prestige brands.

Magazine ads and television commercials promise that buying certain items will make teens all the rage, irresistible, and self-confident. How else would advertisers get teen girls, in particular, to spend 9 billion dollars annually on make-up and skin care products? So if your daughters seem desperate for certain possessions, it’s not completely their fault. They’ve been convinced that this is the way to become more popular. One of the problems with this, besides financial constraints, is that tweens are encouraged to define themselves by their material possessions rather than by their personalities, talents, and interests. They believe that their peers classify them by what they have—and don’t have—rather than by who they are. To the typical middle school girl, her integrity, hard work, loyalty, and sense of humor mean nothing unless she’s wearing the “right” shoes.

You can empathize with your daughter’s desires to be trendy and accepted while also setting reasonable limits. Encourage fiscal responsibility by giving her a clothing budget and letting her make choices. Or ask her to make up the difference (with birthday money, babysitting proceeds, or odd jobs) between what you decide is the maximum for an item and what their preferred brand costs. Also, it is wise to educate teens and tweens about advertising. They should understand why companies produce ads and what marketers are trying to get them to think. That way, they’ll be more resilient to manipulation and more skilled at identifying the products that they really like—and think they need.

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