Helping Teens Escape Materialism in a Materialistic World

Today’s adolescents have been characterized as the most materialistic generation in history. Many teens are very status-conscious, and to improve their status among their peers, they feel pressured to obtain the latest technology or the “cool” brand names. Their self-worth is driven by their possessions. Ultimately, this type of mentality may lead to poor financial decisions and debt and an underlying dissatisfaction with their life.

Inspiring teenagers to pursue lives of greater value – a life not defined by their possessions but by their actions and dreams – may very well spare them financial burden and empty promises of happiness. It is difficult to keep teens out of the materialistic trap because of our society’s increasing culture of “buying more”, the targeted advertising to teens and young adults, and teens’ desire to fit in with their peers. However, their spending habits are not fully formed – parents and other adults have the ability to shape their thoughts and decisions on materialism before they get themselves into debt or in other trouble.

Following are some ideas for raising teenagers to avoid the materialism trap:

  1. Model simplicity. Children are more likely to imitate what they see than what they hear. The best way to reach your teen on this subject is to model for them the joys and benefits of intentionally living with less. Clean out your closets. Don’t run out and purchase the newest gadget. Explain your decision-making to your teen as you carefully choose your possessions.
  2. Encourage idealism. Many teenagers desire to find a cause that can change the world, but their ideas can be quickly dismissed by adults. No matter how far out or naïve their idea, encourage your teen. Allow teenagers to dream bigger dreams than the mansion, fancy wardrobe and sports car. If they say they want to feed all the starving in Africa, listen to their ideas without inserting too much reality and then volunteer with them at the local food bank. If they grow up thinking about making a difference in others’ lives, then they are more likely to act on those ideas as an adult and feel good about themselves.
  3. Volunteer as a family. Invest your energies into helping other people. Shifting your focus onto the needs of others can encourage gratitude for what you have and replace materialism. Lead your family to offer your time in the community by working in a local food bank or other organization that serves the underprivileged.
  4. Watch less television. This serves a dual purpose. First, it limits the amount of advertising your teen sees, which has a major impact on their spending habits. Second, it allows them to spend more time thinking or being creative.
  5. Identify ad messages. Even if you limit your TV time, advertisements can never be completely avoided. So, teach your teenager to read behind the marketing message. Ask questions, such as, “What are they really trying to sell you with this advertisement? Do you think that product will deliver on its promise?”
  6. Discourage entitlement. Clearly, parents must provide their children the basic necessities in life (food, shelter, clothing, etc.), and, of course, parents should take joy in giving their teens nice gifts on their birthdays and holidays. However, many parents feel compelled to provide kids with their every whim and want. Instead, we should do two things: (1) demonstrate the truths of responsibility – showing that it is hard work to maintain our possessions (cleaning houses, repairing cars, etc.) and (2) require your teen to purchase expensive items with their own money, which will provide them more fulfillment and a better understanding of the relationship between work and money.
  7. Expose them to the less fortunate. Our world has wide-ranging economies. Expose your teen to the lives of other people who live off of substantially lower incomes than Americans, but, in many ways, seem happier. Obviously, it would be great to travel to poor countries to see it firsthand, but for most people, that is not feasible. You could still rent a documentary or research information online.
  8. Establish goals and challenges. Many people will try to use possessions to fill a void within themselves. The problem is that “stuff” can’t do that. Teach your teen to establish their own personal goals and challenges so that they can base their self-worth on their actions, rather than their possessions or the admiration of their friends.
  9. Avoid the status game. Be sure to model inclusiveness to your teen. Seek friends from all social classes, and make sure you do not insinuate that you consider one person more worthy than another based on their money or profession.
  10. Be supportive. A recent study found that teenagers with supportive parents and friends have higher self-esteem, which makes them less materialistic. Children with lower self-esteem valued possessions significantly more than children with higher self-esteem. So, parents, be supportive of your children. Your first step towards that can be reading our previous blog, Building Confidence in Teens.

Final Thoughts…

Ultimately, it is important for parents to teach their teenagers that what matters most is who they are, not what they own. Value your teen’s character, dreams and talents, so that they can see their happiness is not determined by their possessions. Teach them to pursue the greater things in life.


  • Please share the citation for the study you referred to, “A recent study found that teenagers with supportive parents and friends have higher self-esteem, which makes them less materialistic. Children with lower self-esteem valued possessions significantly more than children with higher self-esteem. So, parents, be supportive of your children.” It would be very helpful if I could find the original source. Thank you.

  • Great story, just what I nneded, Thank you!

  • To be honest, our teens are exposed to more ads than any other generation before them. Because of this exposure, teens are wanting more and more even if they don’t need it. I believe that if you are constantly building up the self-esteem of our teens, while modeling what success and confidence look like without all the things, this would be a great starting point. Examples: Show them love, respect, and attention. Encourage their creativity with style & compliment their appearance.

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