The Five Forces of Materialism

Children, and adults, adopt materialistic values for different reasons. Some youngsters shop when they get bored, others desire “it” items to fit in with their peer group. I Want It Now, introduces the forces of materialism—life circumstances that increase children’s vulnerability to materialism. Why is this information important? Research suggests that individuals with strong materialistic values experience more emotional difficulties, loneliness, and less overall satisfaction with life. Read the descriptions below to decide which force best illustrates your or your child’s behavior.

The Mimic encourages materialism by persuading children to imitate the consumer-oriented values they see on television programs, in music videos, at the movies, and in magazines. You know the Mimic is at work when your youngster:

  • Watches larges amounts of unsupervised television.
  • Constantly requests the clothing, make-up, jewelry, shoes, or other accoutrements of their favorite actor, sports figure, or musician.
  • Wants the toys and games advertised during Saturday morning cartoon time.
  • Admires others because of their income or belongings and wants to be just like them.
  • Believes that the primary reason people work is to attain status and expensive belongings, rather than to build on personal strengths and live a satisfying life.

The Comparer convinces youngsters that the best way to gain peer acceptance is through material goods and status. The Comparer is particularly influential with preteens and teens because of the importance of conformity and social comparison at this age. Studies show that youngsters who spend an inordinate amount of time with peers more frequently endorse materialistic values. The Comparer convinces children to:

  • Rely more on the opinions of their friends rather than on their own judgment when making purchases.
  • Buy items to impress their friends.
  • Feel that they must buy pricey jeans, shoes, or other items in order to gain respect and/or acceptance from their friends.
  • Constantly feel as though they never have enough stuff. A child might complain that “I have nothing to wear,” or “Everyone at school has an iPod but me.”

The Lonely One works most effectively on children who have difficulty making or maintaining friendships. This force tries to persuade youngsters into believing that purchasing material goods, rather than improving social skills and confidence will help them to make friends. A child susceptible to the Lonely One might believe that:

  • He is nothing special and that his personal attributes are not enough to interest other children.
  • Purchasing the latest video game will get children to like him.
  • Giving away his treasured toys or gear to others will guarantee lasting friendship.
  • Acquiring material goods is more important than nurturing friendships.

You Complete Me cajoles some youngsters into using material goods and appearance to define who they are. These children base their identities on externals such as brand names and status symbols rather than internal qualities like talents, interests, and other pursuits that bring joy. Children with a poor self-concept or those in the throes of developing an identity can be particularly open to You Complete Me. Such a child may:

  • Consider that wealthy people are happier, smarter, or more worthy than those with little money.
  • Define her personality based on superficial elements. For example, “I’m attractive because I wear designer clothes,” or “I’m cool because I own the best video games.”
  • Judge others based on appearance, where they live, or on what their parents do.
  • Change her opinions, tastes, and attitudes based on who she happens to be hanging out with in order to garner the positive regard of others.
  • Have particularly low self-esteem.
  • Experience dissatisfaction with her current standard of living.

The Humdrum, Ho-Hum exploits children’s inclination toward boredom. This force entices youngsters to turn to external sources such as shopping to alleviate the “ho-hums.” A youngster under the influence of the Humdrum, Ho-Hum may:

  • Be more prone to making impulse purchases.
  • Rack up debt on credit cards (particularly true for adolescents and young adults with access to their own or their parents’ credit).
  • Use shopping or the allure of acquiring a new possession to manage a depressed or anxious mood.
  • Experience difficulty identifying the ways in which feelings and mood can influence behavior.
  • Lack interests or hobbies that he can rely on to infuse life with meaning and excitement.

Use the information here to increase your understanding of why you or your child might adopt materialistic values. This material is not intended as a substitute for psychotherapy with a trained professional.