Curbing Materialism in Your Child


10 Pieces of Advice from Child Psychologist Monda Joseph

“Peer pressure is huge, and plays a big role in the development of materialism in children”

As Oscar Wilde once wrote, to know “The cost of everything but the value of nothing” is the worst way to grow up. Teaching your child to have a balanced attitude towards money is an important aspect of their education, but in a society where even toddlers have iPads and expensive gadgets that often replace imaginative quality playtime – or outdoor activities – how do we make sure our children don’t become over-materialistic?

Cairo East Magazine spoke to child psychologist Monda Joseph about the best ways to combat this threat.

CEM: To what extent should parents refrain from focusing on how much an items cost when discussing them with their children?

MJ: Make your children aware of what things cost so they can appreciate them, but without dwelling on the subject; repeating it can be stressful for them. For older kids as part of their learning process it is good to have them look up the price of the things they would like, for example on sites such as Amazon, and then let them research and compare prices and put them in a context. At the same time avoid measuring everything in terms of monetary value because this will encourage a more materialistic outlook.

How much should children know about how family finances are handled?

This depends on the age of the child. As a rule give your children only as much information as they need. Young children are egocentric and are only really concerned with what is affecting them directly, but adolescents should be made more aware of what is going on around them, and by age fifteen they need to learn about good decision-making, including those made with regards to finances. Some children are completely uninterested, but if they ask for details don’t shut them out; respect them and let them feel heard, while making it clear that you as parents always make the decisions regarding finances.

In a situation in which there are financial difficulties or changes that can affect the children it’s okay to make them aware of what’s going on, but let them feel that it is being handled so that they won’t stress about it.

How much is peer pressure and keeping up with friends and school-mates to blame for consumerism in children?

Peer pressure is huge, and plays a big role in the development of materialism in children, because it’s one of the biggest factors associated with social acceptance. No child wants to be different, and parents are often stuck between wanting to honor their own values and succumbing to the pressure being placed on their children outside the home. Having something or not, being in the group or out, these are issues that are hard for young children to deal with; they don’t have the capacity to measure them. In Egypt, if it’s the parents’ belief that their children should not have electronic devices at an early age they will be swimming against the tide since it’s become common for school kids in Year One to have phones and iPads!

However what you can do is impose restrictions on how often they use them at home, especially for young children – for example an hour or two on weekdays and three on the weekend. Fix a set time for everyone in the home to put away their gadgets, including you, the parents, and spend family time together doing other things. For example you can allocate one night a week as ‘family evening’ when you watch movies together or go out and enjoy another activity. Don’t let gadgets become an addiction; ‘everything in moderation’ is an important lesson.

Do you think it is important for children to work towards items they want, apart from essentials and clothing?

Certainly, because it teaches them to know the value of and appreciate the objects they have, and also how to save towards a target. They can get an allowance in the form of pocket money, and/or do chores to earn their allowance. If the item is very expensive then an arrangement can be worked out by which they do chores up to a certain value and then the parents can consider making up the rest.

How important is it for children to be able to differentiate between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’?

It’s an important life skill, which will serve them well later on. Self-managing and learning how to prioritize should be learned as early as possible, starting around the age of eight, when a child is cognitively able to reason.

When children have a made a purchase, is it a good idea to ask them if they feel they made the right decision, and why?

Yes, because it helps parents understand their thought processes and motivations (as well as making the child more aware of these themselves). For example, did they want the object just because their friend has it, or was there another reason?  Discussing these issues also promotes good communication between parent and child.

Should children be given a regular set allowance?

Yes, though how much is totally the parents’ decision. From the age of five to eleven parents should help their children manage their pocket money, but from twelve and up they should learn this for themselves; how and where to keep it and what to spend it on; it’s about learning to take responsibility for their own decisions.

Should children be encouraged to make small donations to a charity of their choice?

I advise parents to encourage and teach their children to give. In this society lots of kids grow up just taking. Even though they live surrounded by want, they are often being brought up in a kind of bubble and don’t get to interact with people outside their own social circle. Try to give them a choice and discuss with them what charity they would like to donate to, and it doesn’t need to be money. Learning to give away what was once theirs – clothes or toys they no longer use, for example – is sometimes harder because those things are really related to them, rather than just money which comes from mom and dad.

Is it a good idea to ask children to allocate their allowance to ready spending money, long-term savings, and saving up for something special they want?

Yes definitely. Some children will tend to opt for instant gratification and that’s okay, but teach them that waiting and saving can result in a bigger and better purchase, and be more gratifying in the long run.

Is it important for parents to involve the whole family in low-cost or cost-free activities that they can all enjoy?

Definitely. If you want your child to grow up with a less materialistic outlook, then you must be prepared to replace their desire for new toys, electronic games and expensive activities with something else; something they will enjoy equally and that involves you. Spending time together doing low-cost activities is far more valuable in the end than equipping them with the latest gadgets. Of course this puts the pressure on busy parents, but it is a vital part of their learning process and social interaction. So if your child is in danger of becoming over materialistic, start creating interesting alternatives to yet another purchase.

Monda Joseph holds a Master of Psychology (Educational and Developmental Psychologist) and a Postgraduate Diploma of Psychology from the University Of Western Sydney, Australia. She has also completed a Bachelor of Arts, Psychology at the American University in Cairo (AUC).  She works with children who display various emotional and behavioral problems. Addressing these issues through structured assessment…. etc…


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