A study from the Netherlands suggests that unhappy kids are more materialistic. This jibes with what I know about human nature. When you are unhappy you look for other things to make you happy, like a PSP or an iPad.
And exposure to TV commercials makes it worse. Advertisers send the message that possessions increase happiness. (Which is silly because we all know it’s food that does that.)
The Netherlands study involved 466 children who participated in online surveys both in October 2006 and October 2007. In the survey kids rated themselves on how much they like other children based on whether they have more possessions. Kids also rated how happy they were with their life, home, parents, friends, school and themselves and as a whole.
The interesting thing is that the sad kids aren’t watching more TV than the happy kids. Happy kids watch plenty of TV. My childhood bears this out as my happiness was directly correlated with how many episodes of Little House on the Prairie I watched per week. But this isn’t about me and my healthy/unhealthy fixation on Pa. This is about unhappy kids who want to buy things.
Unhappy children seem to be more susceptible to the effects of advertising. (Yikes.)
Wise parents will teach their children to be critical consumers by discussing ad content and its effectiveness with their kids.
Researchers also suggest that parents teach kids that love, friendship, and play are real sources of happiness instead of possessions. Kids can also learn the value of contributing to the household if we teach them to help and work when they are young.
I don’t think these findings are too surprising. Many adults find themselves in a cycle of unhappiness and materialism. But it’s startling to find out just how vulnerable unhappy kids are.
One researcher explains, “Previous studies among adults indicate not only that people with lower life satisfaction become more materialistic, but also that more materialistic people become less satisfied with their lives.”
This study provides evidence that spoiled kids will grow up to be as unhappy as unhappy kids will grow up to be materialistic. And it provides more evidence that those intangible things we try to do every day as parents–instilling joy and compassion and values–are the things that count in the long run.
PS If you’re happy you get to watch all the TV you want. Which makes you happier. Which is the opposite of a shame spiral.