“I don’t like myself,” says your adolescent little dude. “Gimme things. Lots and lots of things.” Ah, if only life were that simple.
To start with, there’s no way any adolescent little dude or dudette would ever be that straightforward about his or her feelings, especially about something as important as their own self image. Secondly, talk? To a parent? Without being forced to do so? Yeah, right. Finally, they probably wouldn’t be talking, even if you could get them to force out a coherent sentence, about some of the latest scientific research on materialism.
Still, that’s what we’re here for.
So, it turns out that there’s a very strong link between an adolescent dude’s or dudette’s low self esteem during adolescence and a surprisingly large increase in materialism, that is putting ever more importance on the acquisition and keeping of stuff.
Lan Nguyen Chaplin (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Deborah Roedder John (University of Minnesota) show that the relationship appears to more than just a correlation, but a causal relationship — low self esteem causes increased materialism and raising self esteem decreases materialism.
In a forthcoming study in the Journal of Consumer Research, Chaplin and John studied children of different age groups and found that, generally, self-esteem increases from middle childhood (8-9 years) to early adolescence (12-13 years), but then declines during adolescence until the end of high school (16-18 years). This mirrors patterns in materialism, which increases in early adolescence but decreases in late adolescence during the transition into young adulthood.
They found that even a simple gesture to raise self esteem dramatically decreased materialism, which provides a way to cope with insecurity: “By the time children reach early adolescence, and experience a decline in self-esteem, the stage is set for the use of material possessions as a coping strategy for feelings of low self-worth,” they write.
Anybody who’s been around an adolescent, heck, most any little dude, knows the naked avarice on display in their little minds can be just slightly overwhelming. It’s really not a good thing if the little dudes see getting stuff as the only way to cope with life. For one thing, they’ll start to feel even worse about themselves if they see someone who has more, newer or better stuff than they do. Which leads to decreased self esteem, which leads to more materialism. It’s a vicious cycle.
There are, however, ways to break that cycle, Chaplin and John wrote.
After assessments of self-esteem and materialism levels, children of different age groups were asked to make a collage about what makes them happy on paper plates. Some children were given paper plates on which their peers had written positive comments about them. This seemingly small gesture completely eliminated the differences in materialism among different age groups that the researchers observed earlier.
“Our results indicate that simple actions to raise self-esteem among young consumers can have a dramatic impact on expressions of materialism,” Chaplin and John write. “By priming high self-esteem, we reversed the large drop in self-esteem experienced by early adolescents, thereby reducing the steep rise in materialism among this group.”
While that is, actually, pretty great, the only problem I see about it is that the change came about because of a difference in perception of how their own age cohort thinks of them. And that’s something we, as parents, can’t do a lot to influence. Although I know I wish we could.Share on Facebook Tags: A Dude's Guide to Teens, Acquisition, Adolescence, Adolescents, Adult, Causal Relationship, Chaplin University, children, Coherent Sentence, dude, Dude's, Dudette, Expressions, Feelings, Forthcoming Study, Freaky Friday, Freaky Friday, Illinois Urbana Champaign, Journal Of Consumer Research, little dude, little dudes, Low Self Esteem, Material Possessions, Materialism, men, Middle Childhood, parent, parents, Possession, Relationship, research, richard, Richard I, Roedder, school, science, Self Esteem, Self Image, Self Worth, Simple Gesture, Stuff, Time Children, University Of Illinois Urbana, University Of Illinois Urbana Champaign, Young Adulthood