Helping your kids look cool in school hurts their relationships

  • Children
  • Tuesday, 22 Sep 2015

Buying all the things your kid wants can be bad for their mental health development. Photo: Shutterstock

Kids as well as their parents often get drawn into a cycle of believing that looking good and having all the right stuff leads to young people feeling better about themselves and making new friends, yet a new study says buying into consumer culture can be detrimental to children and teenagers.

It's a downward spiral say the researchers, in which kids with worsening peer relations turn to consumer-culture values that wind up chipping away at their well-being even more.

Working with 1,000 UK children between the ages of eight and 14, the research team followed them for three years.

To them, the road to popularity was being disruptive, having cool stuff and looking good, yet the results of the study demonstrate that these values have the opposite effect.

In the study, children who felt rejected by their peers turned to consumer culture only to find their relationships suffered even more.

Materialism, says study author Dr Matthew Easterbrook from the University of Sussex, is a coping mechanism of vulnerable children.

For boys, depressive symptoms precluded increased interest in materialism, whereas for girls they were instead an indicator of concerns about their appearance.

"Our results suggest that children who have low levels of well-being are particularly likely to become orientated towards consumer culture, and thus enter into a negative downward spiral," says Easterbrook.

Co-author Professor Robin Banerjee says the research illustrates how children perceive social success as being tied to their possessions.

"Although friendly and helpful children were ultimately more popular over time, young people mistakenly predicted that the route to being liked was in having a reputation for disruptive behaviour, having 'cool' stuff and looking good," he says.

In a recent related study, Dr Mark Wright, of the University of Brighton, found that fashion models were more resilient than other women their age to the emotional impacts tied to the pursuit of physical beauty.

While the impact for both models and non-models was damaging, a greater sense of belonging seemed to mediate the effects on the models, according to Wright.

Wright and Easterbrook will present their papers at the British Psychological Society's Developmental and Social Psychology Section annual conference.

The research is part of a larger project at Sussex University to examine the impact of materialist ideals on children's personal and social well-being. – AFP Relaxnews

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