Materialism is on the rise, and it’s linked to significant mental problems, particularly in children. In a new study, researchers describe a way to curb kids’ materialistic tendencies: working on their generosity.

There’s a philosophical discussion to be had about materialism and whether it is an inherent problem or not, but practically speaking, materialism has been linked to a variety of mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, while mental side-effects such as selfish attitudes and behaviors essentially come by default. Needless to say that that’s not really how you want your kid ending up — but there’s some good news. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have published a new study documenting what parental tactics can curb kids’ materialistic tendencies.

“Our findings show that it is possible to reduce materialism among young consumers, as well as one of its most common negative consequences (nongenerosity) using a simple strategy — fostering gratitude for the things and people in their lives,” writes researcher Lan Nguyen Chaplin, associate professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of the study.

After studying a nationwide sample of more than 900 adolescents ages 11 to 17, Chaplin’s team found that unexpectedly, there’s a silver bullet when it comes to defeating materialism: harboring generosity.

The teens were asked to fill out two short questionnaires. The first was a measure of materialism, assessing the value they placed on money and other material goods, while the second one was a measure of gratitude, assessing how thankful the teens are for the people and possessions in their life.

All adolescents were randomly assigned to keep a daily journal for two weeks, but one group was asked to record a gratitude journal (writing down who and what they were thankful for each day), whereas the second group (the control group) was asked to record their daily activities. After two weeks, the journals were collected. Participants were asked to fill out the same questionnaires and were also given ten $1 bills for participating, which they could keep for themselves or donate to charity.

Researchers note that participants who were asked to record the gratitude journal exhibited lower materialism score, and they were also more likely to split some of their $10 with charity.

“Collectively, our findings show that it is possible to reduce materialism among young consumers, as well as one of its most common negative consequences (nongenerosity), using a simple strategy – fostering gratitude for the things and people in their lives,” the study reads.

“The results of this survey study indicate that higher levels of gratitude are associated with lower levels of materialism in adolescents across a wide range of demographic groups,” Chaplin added.

The team concludes by calling for further research to extend and enrich our understanding of how gratitude can benefit the development of positive values among children and adolescents.

The study was published in The Journal of Positive Psychology

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