Twenty-seven years ago, Madonna first sang about being a material girl, living in a material world. Today she and her cigarette-puffing, 15-year-old daughter, Lourdes Leon, run a clothing line called (you guessed it) Material Girl.
Are you worried that your kids are following in Lourdes' designer-clad footsteps and caring too much about stuff? Here's what you can do:
Remember who chose your zip code - you. Kids are more likely to want expensive possessions if they grow up in a 90210-esque neighborhood. So don't be too quick to blame them for being materialistic.
Focus on doing. "Experiences are so much more likely to lead to happiness than material things," says Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy, the father of four and the co-author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? "Kids get so busy looking at the material things rather than thinking about how they're going to use them and enrich their lives." One boy was so busy shopping for drums that he wasn't playing them. When he finally did start practicing, he felt much happier. "Get into doing it rather than just sitting on the internet looking at it," says Hindy.
Pick down-to-earth family activities. Do you and your kids spend time camping together - or shopping together? Next time you're tempted to hit the mall, hop on your bike, cultivate a green garden, or head to the zoo or museum instead. Try fun family fitness activities - or an offbeat field trip to a maze.
Look at the research. Studies show that when it comes to happiness, spending on experiences trumps spending on stuff. Other people find those who shell out on stuff to be more shallow and those who indulge in activities to more charismatic.
Share your concerns with your kids - maybe. "Both parents and their young or fully grown children should be able to speak directly about their personal reactions to one another — including criticisms of their values, characters, habits, and ideas," says child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, author of Raising Kids with Character. But remember that it's a two-way street, and it can lead to hurt feelings. "A man may say to his son, 'I am really worried that you are becoming too materialistic' if he is prepared for his son to remark next week, 'I am really worried that you have been treating Mom quite abusively lately through the intermediary of your new divorce lawyer,'" says Berger.
Talk about the overall issue. "Our society is materialistic and growing more so each day," says Berger. "Perhaps raising this as a general topic for discussion can open the door for a nuanced debate, and thereby help reassure parents that their offspring are not quite the materialistic knuckle-heads that they might appear to be."
Do some soul searching. Who controls the family purse strings? You do. Sure, your teens may be earning money babysitting or working. But they're hardly the only ones who spent $24 billion on products for kids from birth to 14 years of age in the first quarter of 2012, according to The NPD Group. (The biggest growth area: apparel and accessories.)
Volunteer to help others. Get the whole family, not just your kids, to help out at a senior center, bring food to a sick member of your church, or visit an injured member of a neighborhood sports team, says pediatrician Michelle Barratt, the mother of five and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Writing a check is good - but giving your time is even better, she says.
Pay attention to what your kids are watching on TV. Is it the Kardashians? And you wonder why your daughter dreams of Christian Louboutin boots?
Invite friends to dinner. "Put more emphasis on people time than on things," says Barratt. Though you don't want to detract from family mealtime, you can promote friendships by adapting an open-table policy. Set a good example for your kids by not worrying too much about what your dishes look like or whether the menu would get Martha Stewart's seal of approval. It's the conversation that matters.
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