Research: Don’t Buy Too Many Christmas Gifts for Kids


A new study from the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois at Chicago has found that parents who promote good behavior by offering material possessions could be setting up difficulties for their children later on in life.

The authors of the study, “Material Parenting: How the Use of Goods in Parenting Fosters Materialism in the Next Generation,” discovered three parenting strategies that ended with greater materialism.  Offering material possessions as a reward to children for something they should be doing, such as getting good grades; giving gifts to show affection; and taking away toys as a punishment.

“Our research suggests that children who receive many material rewards from their parents will likely continue rewarding themselves with material goods when they are grown—well into adulthood – and this could be problematic,” said Marsha Richins, Myron Watkins distinguished professor of marketing in theRobert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business at MU. “Our research highlights the value of examining childhood circumstances and parenting practices to understand consumer behaviors of adults.”

Parents who used material goods in these three ways were more likely to see their children grow up with the belief that the quality and quantity of material possessions aids in the attractiveness of a person.  Previous research on the topic has shown that adults who define themselves by their possessions are more likely to have marital problems, gambling addictions, financial debt and decreased well-being.  In addition, materialism can also lead to environmental issues from overconsumption and wasting of goods.

“Loving parents tend to provide their children with material rewards,” Richins said. “One explanation for the link between material rewards and later materialism is that children who receive these rewards are more likely than others to use possessions to define and enhance themselves, an essential element of materialism.”

Researchers discovered other areas of parenting that may have an influence over attitudes toward materialism later in life, such as the relationship between parental rejection and materialism.  Children who grew up feeling that their parents were either disappointed in them or did not have time for them were found to be more likely to be materialistic later in life.  Adults who had grown up receiving both material rewards and punishments were also found to be more likely to admire people with expensive possessions.

“It’s OK to want to buy things for your children, but remember to encourage them to be grateful for all the people and things they have in their lives,” Chaplin said. “Each time children express their gratitude, they become more aware of how fortunate they are, which paves the way for them to be more generous and less materialistic. Spend time with your children and model warmth, gratitude and generosity to help curb materialism.”

The study looked at over 700 adults.  Participants discussed issues such as their relationship with their parents and the rewards and punishments they had received during critical stages of their childhood with researchers.

12 19, 2014
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