Giving your child an “I love you” gift maybe doing a lot more harm than good.
According to a recent study published by the Journal of Consumer Research, parents who use material possessions as gestures of love are potentially raising a generation of materialists. The same was also true when parents used material goods as bribes and punishment.
The study surveyed over 700 adults to get some insight into the long-term effects of rewarding children with material items. They found that those who received more material rewards and punishment as a child were more likely to judge their worth and the worth of others based on the material goods they had. They found that those adults would also use their possessions, instead of personal achievements, to help define themselves in their adulthood.
The study focused on three types of gift-giving.
Conditional material rewards: Giving children rewards for specific behaviours and achievements. While it seems like a harmless gesture, it can potentially teach a child to work hard for the material payoff instead of personal achievement and happiness.
Unconditional material rewards: Giving fun, unsolicited gifts to your children as gestures of love just to see the happy looks on their faces. We’re all guilty of this! But children who habitually receive these random gifts may begin to expect them and potentially be unappreciative of them in the long run.
Material punishment: How many times have you used the line, “No more TV or video games for you!” or something very similar? According to the study, the problem with this form of discipline is it puts too much emphasis on the material possession you’re taking away, than the behaviour you’re disciplining them for.
So, do we reward our children? Do we not? The answer, as for most things, is keeping it balanced. According to Lan Nguyen Chaplin, co-writer of the study, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding your children from time to time, but adds there’s no better reward like spending your time with your kids. “It’s important for parents to give their children the gift of their time and attention. You can’t substitute material goods for your time or attention,” she told CBS. “…if parents always reward/punish kids using material things, then their self-worth, over time, is centered around material goods.”
So next time you want to surprise your child with that new, shiny toy—remember, everything in moderation.