Community Contributor
8:01 am
Thu December 26, 2013

Our Shopping Obsession Causes Teenagers' Materialism

Credit asenat29 / Flickr CC

As long as I can remember, and even before I was born, the angst of the stereotypical teenager -- the James Dean-like rebels without a cause, the "Breakfast Club" members, the mischievous, too-cool-for-rules Zack Morris from "Saved by the Bell" – has been king.

And with good reason.

Teenagers are moody.  They are self-centered -- bordering on narcissistic.  And a study published this summer claims today’s teenagers are also more materialistic than any generation before them.

San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge — along with co-author Tim Kasser, professor of psychology at Knox College -- published the study using a sample of more than 355,000 high school students. Although materialism began rising in the mid-1970s, the study claims that it is at historically high levels.

"Compared to previous generations, recent high school graduates are more likely to want lots of money and nice things, but less likely to say they're willing to work hard to earn them," said Twenge, who also authored the book "Generation Me."

Why are teenagers so superficial?  The better question is: How could they not be?

Retailers are open on Thanksgiving. Social critics and grandmothers everywhere are fretting over the loss of family values and the rise of commercialism.  But that is short-sighted.  

Yes, Christmas is earlier this year than ever.

Kmart aired their first Christmas ad in September. Christmas ornaments decorated the mall in October.  Already in November, pine trees greet shoppers outside of home-improvement stores.

Why? A stubborn recession and the rise in online shopping hurt retailers’ bottom line.  And Christmas is big business.  It always has been.  From Coca-Cola’s Santa Claus to nutcrackers, advertisers know that Christmas sells.  So much so that in 1939 FDR moved Thanksgiving up a week to provide retailers with an extra week of shopping before Christmas.

In the movies, the holidays are about friends and family.  In our fondest memories, they usually are.  But, in reality, Christmas is about shopping.  People run out before dawn to partake in Black Friday madness.  This year they worked off the extra stuffing and pumpkin pie while weaving through crowds at their favorite store for competitive shopping.

So, why are teenagers materialistic?  They learned it from watching us.  They’ve learned the holidays are about presents.  They’ve learned to wait in line for hours, even days, to be the first to buy a video game console.  They’ve learned that despite a stubbornly high unemployment rate, Apple sold a record breaking 9 million new iPhone 5s on their first weekend alone. They’ve learned that things are important, that things will make them happy.

Adolescence is tough. Kids are under a lot of pressure – to get good grades, get into good schools, make friends, be cool – as they are trying to figure out who they are.  And we’ve taught them that the right pair of shoes and the perfect smartphone can help them do that.