Teenage materialism itself is not new, but it has steadily accelerated over the last few decades. Professor Deborah Roedder John wanted to know why and what could be done about it.

If you know at least one teenager, you are likely familiar with teen materialism. Many adolescents are driven to acquire trendy and expensive items including high-end handbags, cell phones and MP3 players. Teenage materialism itself is not new, but it has steadily accelerated over the last few decades and Professor Deborah Roedder John wanted to know why.

John and co-author Lan Nguyen Chaplin (Villanova University) originally found a connection between self-esteem and materialism. As a teen's self worth declines, he or she looks to purchase expensive items for a boost. "Material goods compensate for all those negative feelings we have about ourselves," says John. This link yielded another important finding about how materialism develops from childhood to adolescence. Materialism increases from childhood to the early teen years, but then drops as they move into the later years of high school. This mirrors the ups and downs of self-esteem as children and teens grow older.

The next question to tackle was how parents and peers contribute to materialism in teens. To answer this, John conducted further analyses to see if parents and peers can influence materialism by affecting self esteem. Peers are often blamed for pressuring contemporaries to buy the coolest brands of clothes or electronic gadgets. Parents are often blamed for setting a bad example for their teens--putting too much emphasis on having more and better possessions.

However, John's evidence suggests that parents and peers can also have a positive effect. "These two groups are the most important sources of emotional support, psychological well-being, and feelings of self-worth in the lives of teens," says John. "We found that teenagers with supportive parents and friends have higher self-esteem, which makes them less materialistic."

The outcome is clear--being supportive not only makes for happier teenage years, it can also reduce the unrelenting requests for expensive items during adolescence.

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Reprinted with permission of the Institute for Research in Marketing, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota. More information on the Institute can be found at www.carlsonschool.umn.edu/marketinginstitute.