Just about everywhere a kid looks, they see versions of the same advertisement—the advertisement that says, “You’ll be happier with more stuff. Possessions are what matters most in life. Things define who you are.”
YouTube channels filled with videos of kids unwrapping presents. Pop-up ads on that iPad game for the latest toy. Kids who look just like them wearing cool clothes.
As we talked about a while back, we should do whatever we can to avoid mainlining materialism. We should do whatever we can to help our kids avoid letting possessions define who they are. But how do we do this? One answer comes from Marsha Richins, a professor of marketing at the University of Missouri, who has also been studying materialism for nearly three decades. In an interview with The Atlantic, Richins was asked about how we can help our kids learn not to tie their identity to the things they own.
It seems to me that if a child has certain intangible resources—maybe they play a musical instrument and they’re in the band—they would maybe develop some friendships based around that shared experience. Maybe their parents are saying, “Wow, I’m so proud of you for sticking with band and practicing your trumpet.” This can give a child a sense of who they are beyond just possessions, but that’s an intangible thing. So if kids have more things like athletic skills or activities that they can talk about or form connections with friends over those things, they can feel good about themselves through many different kinds of things. And if you’re lacking other kinds of things—if you’re lacking intangible resources—you might want to fall back on tangible resources.
Our job is to help them cultivate these intangible resources. Friendships and interests and hobbies and activities they love doing for the sake of doing—we want them to learn that these are the things worth pursuing more and more of. And as with most lessons, the best way to teach your kid this is by example.
It’s a good question to leave you with: What do they see you valuing? Tangible or intangible resources?