The Impact of Consumerism on Children
British psychotherapist Graham Music recently released a book that stresses how empathy in children has reached new lows. He pulls from hundreds of academic sources on child development and moral psychology, and decades of his own clinical practice, to explain some of the context for why children today have become meaner and more self-absorbed.
Not surprisingly, Graham argues that an increased focus on materialism and the prizing of possessions has produced narcissistic children who grow up to be adults who never learn the intrinsic rewards of social belonging and interdependence.
How does consumer culture breed narcissism?
The idea of consumer culture is to try to sell us things to make us feel better, and often better than other people. Research shows that people who care more about status symbols, what they look like or being famous, have more mental health problems, and if you are exposed to those values, you are more likely to become unhappy. People who place greater value on being with the people they care about and doing things they believe in, tend to be healthier, both physically and mentally. But consumerism is addictive … Once self-interest wins, it’s hard to get the other side back.
What are the most powerful things parents can do to counteract consumerism?
Live by example, making sure there’s time to help a neighbour, or get involved in community activities. Mindfulness activities can make a huge difference – they really do trigger different parts of our brains – and many can be done with kids, such as being still, concentrating and showing an interest in things such as bird songs. We can learn from our children instead of trying to force them into our pace.
So the next time you’re thinking about buying an ipad for kids just to keep them happy, maybe you should encourage them to engage in some actually valuable human interactions. Not only will you save a couple bucks, but you’ll probably be helping them become better people someday too. And considering all of the problems we need to start solving collectively, a little empathy will go a long way.