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Managing Money by Managing Materialism in Kids

Written by Binghamton University on 10 April 2009.

materialism in kidsMary Muscari, associate professor in the Decker School of Nursing at Binghamton University and author of "Let Kids be Kids: Rescuing Childhood," offers tips for managing materialism in your kids. According to market researchers Packaged Facts, families with 3- to 12-year-olds spend $53.8 billion annually on items for their children -- $17.6 billion more than parents spent in 1997.

Twelve to 19-year-olds spent roughly $175 billion in 2004 or $53 billion more than in 1997, per Teen Research Unlimited. Our modern consumer culture encourages children to find fulfillment in shopping by creating a climate where not having the latest clothes, the most equipped cell phone, and the best of everything else is unthinkable. This "have to have it" mentality and its associated self-definition in terms of possessions, may lead to compulsive buying to regulate mood and escape from self-awareness, a problem that ranks disorder status along with other addictions,

Parents strive to do what's best for their children but sometimes this drive can go off course, especially when it combines with guilt and vanished quality time. A common by-product of this problem is giving in to frequent materialistic whims, which can lead kids to think that wallets are bottomless. If our children are to survive financially tomorrow, they must learn about money matters today - especially in this economic climate.

What's a stressed-out, guilt-ridden parent to do?
Start by buying less. Exam your personal values. If you live by the maxim, "shop 'til you drop," and know the local UPS man's life history from his delivering packages to your home, you need to change as much as your children. Most materialistic kids have materialistic parents.

You can also:

* Turn off the TV. Encourage your children to read books from the local library. They're free of cost and commercials.
* If you can't turn off the TV, monitor it, and explain the rationale behind commercials, which are designed to make kids want things they don't necessarily need. Reality helps put things into perspective.
* Teach moderation. Children can't and shouldn't have everything they want, especially without working for it. Critical life lessons come from saving and working hard to achieve goals.
* If you don't have savings accounts or money markets for your children, open them, and have your children contribute to them regularly.
* Reinforce the value of community service and responsibility.
* When occasions occur, give gifts with meaning. Make your own gifts (photo albums, customized stationery, potpourri, afghans, scarves); give philanthropic gifts (buy gifts from community charities, donate in a loved one's name); or give the gift of time.
* Ease up on the freebies. Let children work for what they want to create a link between effort and reward.
* Learn to say, "We can't afford it," and mean it.

About Mary Muscari:
Mary Muscari is an associate professor in the Decker School of Nursing at Binghamton University. An expert in child health, mental health, and forensics, Muscari has more than 30 years of experience working with children and teens. She has written or coauthored more than 100 publications, including Not My Kid: 21 Steps to Raising a Nonviolent Child, Not My Kid 2: Protecting Your Children from the 21 Threats of the 21st Century, and Let Kids be Kids: Rescuing Childhood.

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