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"All They Want To Be Is Rich, Famous, and Good Looking"

Children who value wealth, fame, and image face risks of anxiety and depression.

“We have given our children everything and now look at them! Just look at them….the most important things to them are money, fame, and getting the most “Likes” on Instagram or the longest “Snapstreak” on Snapchat. All they care about is themselves. They don’t give a hoot about others. This is not what we intended!”

Parents all over the world want the best for their children. Many have given them everything. Has it backfired? Has it gone awry? Unknowingly parents may have overindulged their children. I believe childhood overindulgence is the process parents unintentionally employ that instills materialistic values in their children.

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Source: rawpixel/Pexels/CCO License

The High Price of Materialism

Tim Kasser’s book titled “The High Price of Materialism” suggests there are two types of individuals. The first type is motivated by extrinsic aspirations (wealth, fame, image), things outside of themselves. The second type of individual is motivated by what he calls intrinsic aspirations (meaningful relationships, personal growth, community contributions). Kasser's research shows that extrinsic aspirations affect everyday happiness and psychological health. If children value wealth, fame and image, “they face a greater risk of unhappiness, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and problems with intimacy.” Further, he says that “Materialistic goals are associated with being less empathic and cooperative, and more manipulative and competitive. The more that people care about materialistic goals, the less they care about ecological sustainability and the more their lifestyles tend to have a damaging effect on the planet.” However, if children value relationships, a meaningful life, and helping others they tend to have increased well-being, are happier, and experience lower amounts of depression and anxiety.

What Are Extrinsic Aspirations?

The desire for:

•Wealth (to be very wealthy, to have lots of expensive things, to be rich)

•Fame (to have my name known by many people, to be admired by many people, to be famous)

•Image (to be attractive, to look good, to wear the latest fashions)

What Are Intrinsic Aspirations?

The desire for:

•Meaningful relationships (to have good faithful friends, to have intimate committed relationships, to have deep enduring friendships)

•Personal Growth (to learn new things, to live a meaningful life, to accept oneself)

•Community Contributions (to work to improve society, to help others without receiving anything in return, and to help others make their lives better)

What About Today’s Youth?

•Wealth – According to UCLA’s annual survey more freshmen than ever (74.6%) say they go to college to make more money.

•Fame – A recent survey found that nearly three-quarters of young people today want a career in online videos; become a YouTuber. Teens post a picture on Facebook or Instagram and hope for as many "likes" as possible. 100 likes or more are considered good. Less is a poor showing, even embarrassing. Some teens say they'll delete pictures that don't hit 100 or more likes.

•Image – Note the “Gucci-clad tots” in Harper Bazaar’s article titled "15 Kids Who Are Already Pro Fashion Bloggers. The most stylish kids to follow on Instagram."

The Link Between Overindulgence and Materialism

My theory is that parents who overindulge their children run the risk of shaping them into adults with extrinsic aspirations who desire wealth, fame and image; materialistic values.

Participants filled out two inventories; one called Overindulged and the other titled The Aspiration Index. We found that all three types of overindulgence (Soft Structure, Overnurture, and Too Much) significantly correlated with materialism (the importance of wealth, fame and Image). Further, path analysis indicated that overindulging children leads to “External” rather than “Internal” life goals.

Major findings

  1. Parents should be aware that overindulging encourages children to become:
  • Disinterested in the betterment of society
  • Unwilling to assist people in need
  • Unwilling to make the world a better place, and
  • Unwilling to help people improve their lives except in order to get something in return

2. Are children today more overindulged than children in the past? Yes. Younger participants in our sample were significantly more overindulged compared to older participants.

3. Do children who grow up in homes with a lot more money experience overindulgence more often? Yes. Those who grew up with more/a whole lot more money were overindulged the most.

4. Is overindulgence the process parents use to instill materialistic values in their children? Yes. Analysis suggests that overindulging children leads to “External” rather than “Internal” life goals. Too much is the major culprit. Too much leads to Soft-structure. Soft structure leads to Over-nurture, all three combined lead to materialistic values.

Tips For Parents

  1. Teach your children about our consumer culture (e.g., who makes ads. How they work. And what they want you to do.
  2. Clarify your intrinsic values.
  3. Focus and model self-growth behaviors.
  4. Emphasize closeness with friends and family.
  5. Model behaviors and actions that make the world a better place.
  6. Make financial decisions based on (a) your self-growth goals, (b) things that bring you closer to friends and family, and (c) things that make the world a better place and helps others.

My next blog will be titled "Our Adult Children Are Living Back Home Again. Help Me!" It will give parents some helpful information on how to navigate this difficult situation.

© 2019 David J. Bredehoft


Bredehoft, D. J., Mennicke, S. A., Potter, A. M., & Clarke, J. I. (1998). Perceptions attributed by adults to parental overindulgence during childhood. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education, 16(2), 3-17.

Bredehoft, D. J., & Ralston, E. S. (2008). Factors connecting childhood overindulgence and adult life aspirations: Executive summary: Study 6. Unpublished manuscript, Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, Concordia University, St. Paul, MN.

Kasser, T. (2003). The high price of materialism. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.

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