Materialistic Pre-Teens

Parent Q&A

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  • My daughter and her friends in grade 8 seem startling materialistic and label obsessed. My daughter is telling me how her friend just went to their weekend home in Carmel and another one has Louis Vuitton Nike Air shoes and then there was a Tiffany-themed (as in the jewelry store) birthday party. Others are going to Europe for the summer .I get this depressing feeling even her friends’ parents are label conscious and I feel like they look down on me, even though my husband and I are well educated and traveled. Is label fixation the new norm? I find myself wanting to move someplace else. I grew up in Carmel amid lots of wealth, but my parents were middle class, people did not flaunt it like here. How can I manage my child’s expectations? Recently I said No I can’t go to Europe this summer because we have to work and I can’t afford it either. No you aren’t going to a $50K per year private school so don’t even bother applying. No I’m not getting you Lulemon pants; they’re a splurge for me as an adult. What do others tell their kids? Can’t believe I’m even writing this post, it’s embarrassing. 

    My daughter (16) is not so obsessed with labels but still asking a lot. I personally make a difference between educational expenses (i.e. paying for interesting but expensive summer programs, this summer a precollege program in NY) and what I think are totally idiotic expenses (i.e. crazy expensive make up she wants). Of course this means I can afford the expensive summer programs. If you can’t just explain that to her and please don’t be ashamed. There is nothing to be ashamed! If you can, there are teens trips organized to Europe and they are for cultural enrichment, not for shopping! Anyway, all my solidarity, teens are hard!


    I have a middle school boy and while the culture of his peers isn't quite what you're describing, he has a lot of wants (that he would characterize as "needs"). I try to share my values and set limits on what we can and can't afford. Or on what I'm willing to spend money on and not.  Things that he wants that are in the category of things that I don't think a young teen needs to have, are things that he has to save up for himself.  He gets $5 a week allowance from me and earns a few dollars a week dog walking.  If he's saved his own money, then he can spend it on things that he wants, even if I think that they are not high priority items.  He's pretty impulsive and spends the money as soon as he's saved it, but it means that I can duck out of arguments about whether or not I'm buying something. He's not interested in clothes or other things that I think he needs, so at this point, I still take care of all of those things.  I've heard of other parents who are starting to transition to giving a lump sum of money for clothing and then giving some control over to their kids about what to buy. E.g., decide how much you think she needs for clothes for a season and then give her that amount. Calculate what you think is a reasonable amount for shirts, pants, jackets, etc.... Then let her figure out how to spend it.  You could decide whether you want to give her free reign (e.g., she can blow it all on one expensive shirt and then have to deal with wearing old clothes) or set some limits (e.g., she needs to buy at least two tops, two bottoms, and a jacket with the money).  She could earn extra to supplement the basic stipend if there are more expensive things she wants. Maybe this would help her start to sort some of these things out, and would help her see that the expensive items require some sacrifice, at least in your family.  I'm sure it's hard for her if her friends get whatever they want, but it's a good lesson to learn.  

    You’re doing the right thing! Keep setting boundaries & explaining your family’s values. What you choose to spend on, what you won’t, what you can’t afford but would buy if you could, what you wouldn’t buy even if you had all the money in the world. She is learning from you  

    This phase hit my daughter earlier, fifth or sixth grade. Where other families vacationed, second homes, the price of clothes. It was exasperating. But it’s better now. (And I’m sure it’s not just a local phenomenon, there were logo conscious snobby girls where I grew up too.)

    I'm not sure being materialistic is new. It was the norm 30 years ago when I was a teenager and has just continued since then. Of course, my friends and I were mostly fixated on certain styles of clothing whereas here in the Bay Area at this moment in time it is, as you say, about second homes, the latest newest electronics, and exotic vacations. My husband and I probably could afford to give my kids all the things they want but we don't. We don't go overseas, we don't have a second home, we drive old boring cars, we don't have a TV or game player, we have really lame "old" phones.

    The children compare how "poor" we are compared to all of their friends. I never explain why we can't have something they want. I just say things like, "Wow. That's a crazy way to spend money. Our family doesn't believe in that," or even sometimes with a laugh, "Oh my goodness. You guys are having such a tragic life! How are you bearing it?"

    I feel much better laughing about it and not taking the complaints seriously than I would if I felt like I had to defend our choices to them.

    I applaud you for posting this topic!  As a parent for a teenage son, I am well aware of this too.

    This is an unusual time.  Many areas in Bay Area are flaunted with wealth with the tech boom, etc.  There are even kids that are taking Tesla to school.

    I came to US from a middle class family in a third world country, worked hard and am now in a comfortable position that I can afford things that I would never dream of before.  But, I actually would like my son to experience what I went through before even though we can afford a little luxury once in a while.  It was a truly valuable American dream experience that any young person should go through.

    As a parent, I do not share too much of our financial situation with the kids.  We live modestly, label ourselves as middle class but are willing to spend on activities and things that add values occasionally.  We talk about money sense often.  My son can get what he wants as long as he is the one that earns the money to get it.  We have contracts in place to put aside some money that he can earn through grades, behavior, chores and volunteer work since he is still less than 16 years old and cannot legally work.  It's not perfect and my son would sometimes say so and so is getting an expensive computer, etc. but I am happy to see his is developing a value system that agrees with ours.

    Lastly, I am also thankful and glad that we are in a neighborhood of like minded parents who value family and education.  I am really surprised and happy when I found out my son and his friends are spending Friday after school hangouts sharing a bottle of soda in plastic cups that someone brought from home and some chips in the parking lot near his high school.

    Parenting in this age is hard but with wisdom and love, I think our kids will get it.

    hi there- I totally hear and understand your situation. Having grown up in an incredibly materialistic area on the east coast when the only thing discussed amongst my peers was what jeans you were wearing and where you shop, and then having raised my kids in san francisco among some of the wealthiest families on the planet--it's a tough thing to fight. And it is hardly just the wealthier kids either that are label conscious-- it is pushed by pop culture across the board and makes all these kids feel left out and "deprived". All I can say is what helped us a a family combat this is to install your core values and do as you seem to be doing- letting them see that your family is not in the same position nor wants to be in order to "keep up" also, if your child wants these things, encourage them to work- babysit, bake sale/lemonade stand, dog walking (all appropriate for an 8th grader) once they have to use their own money to save up for these expensive items, they will better understand the cost and the value. And maybe on a special occasion they can get one thing. Because if you deny and malign their taste and choices, that can really backfire and make the materialism even worse. In addition, doing volunteer work as a family and offering up some perspective on how most people live can also go a long way--

    good luck! Its tough out here in the Bay area to raise kids-on all ends of the spectrum!

    Oh, I'm sorry.  That sounds terrible.  I also have an 8th grader, but that is not our experience at all.   Her friends do not have that kind of wealth and don't seem focused on it.  My kid has never asked for name brand this or that, though I have noticed at least one friend who often wears lululemon.   The thought of other parents not understanding the concept of work during summer is not in my realm.  And our kids are at a private school.  I'm wondering what school your daughter attends?   There certainly is wealth in the Bay Area, but the majority of us couldn't live that way even if we wanted to.  Perhaps there are ways to expose your daughter and her friends gently and kindly to the reality of the majority?

    I feel your pain.  My kid is in a $50K/year private school, and the level of wealth and materialism on display among the student body is mind-boggling to say the least. For example, competed in showing off their fathers' yachts on social media, and one kid even has his own personal yacht as a 12th birthday gift.  Kids this age do not get it that it is extremely bad taste to display wealth like this, and this is also the age when they are very sensitive to peer pressure.  There is no end to this competition, and it is all relative---there will always be someone richer than you are.  But please remember that outside this loud wealthy circle, there are many students who are not like that and who do not worship wealth but rather focus more on academics, personal growth and intellectual pursuits.  Perhaps you can treat this as a great educational opportunity to have a calm and deep discussion with your daughter about important values in life, wealth, social responsibility and what it means to be successful.  I am open with my kid about the financial condition of our family.  I think it important to let the kid know the reality of your family, and how you have been working hard to support the family and her education.  She may not have the wealth of other families, but she has your love and support.  Money and wealth are not the only definition of success in life, and money cannot buy love and happiness (these uber-wealthy families have plenty of drams in this domain).  I think the kids need to know that it is not something worth proud of to spend parents' money---the kids did not work hard for it; they just happen to win the birth lottery, and it is nothing to boast.  For the same reason, there is nothing to be shamed of for not able to go to Europe for summer vacation.  Life is never fair, and if she wants to change something in her life, she will have to work hard by herself to do it, starting by doing well in school and having a long term plan for her own future.  For immediate goals, she could start to do more household work to earn extra money or find a job (like babysitter) to earn money to buy that Lulemon pant.  Once my kid worked hard to earn extra money, she did not want to spend it all out on something like this because she realized how hard she had to work to get the money, and her work was worth more than a silly item she did not absolutely need.  Don't despair--be confident about yourself and your family: you have worked hard, well educated and have given your kids love and a warm family!  Who cares what other people label you-they are not your boss or your family members or someone you love.  Your confidence will influence your daughter too.  Good luck!

    I think it's a bit of a phase and by the time they are a bit into high school it gets better, because they are in a much bigger and more diverse pool of kids.  There are so many trends with what's in and what's out.  I tried to use it as a way to discuss money management and explained how credit cards work, and loans and debt. I told my daughters that you can't tell how people really are able to buy stuff and some people will use credit cards and carry a lot of debt, to have fancy things.  Then they end up paying a lot more once you add the interest in.  Other people don't save any money at all and spend everything they have. The people who flaunt their wealth might not actually be wealthy at all.   Some kids have grandparents who spoil them with fancy gifts.  I reminded them of all the fun we had on domestic travel and all of the cool American cities they have visited. (We've never been to Europe with our children, we don't ski and we live in a small house.)  At public high school she will meet kids from all income levels. Some kids live in big houses, some kids live in apartments.  If the parents really look down on you then those aren't the kind of people you want as friends anyway.  It's a great opportunity to discuss your values.  Plus if your daughter really loves labels there's always Ebay!

    You didn't say what city you live in? If Berkeley, I'm really surprised. This wasn't either of my kids' experience as middle schoolers in Berkeley (my daughter is now a 10th grader and my son is still in middle school at King). There were clothing trends and my daughter sometimes wanted certain items, but label consciousness was not a "thing" in her circle of friends.  I've actually been so pleasantly surprised by how down-to-earth and socioeconomically diverse my kids' middle school (and now high school) friends are. It's been a real blessing in informing my kids' world views as well. A far cry from my teenage years in a wealthy upper middle class suburb.

    Bless you!  Please don't be embarrassed, be thankful for your awareness and for the opportunity to inspire others. Keep on saying "no".  ---------

    Sadly, too many parents, choose the easy road (and say yes to buy, BUY and/or "let's stay as busy as possible" ) rather than address the "I WANT" of their kids, and "I CAN'T be still"=== ditto for themselves. I'm very thankful that your daughter has the opportunity to learn-- from you --about doing what is best for a child rather than giving in so she/he can be like all the others. Tragically, it seems that most parents feel that to do otherwise requires more time, energy, awareness, wisdom, etc than they can 'afford'.  (Yet, even the impoverished families are caught up also...Buy, Buy is our national motto & has been for many, many years)
      Forgive me, but I am also thankful you canNOT afford all the goodies-- I know what it means to live on an extreme budget--but I'm thankful because, otherwise, you might've just fallen into the buy-buy-stream without thinking; Such has happened with my son and his wife.  Now they have 3 very spoiled teen to 20-year olds, who are mostly miserable.  My grandkids   have almost run out of designer jeans, expensive vacations or posh private schools & now are getting into overeating, drinking, depression.  (PS: However, I have faith that one maybe two of these 'kids' will pull out of our national insanity.  (One, I fear, will go down like her mother who has so many clothes they're on racks all over the house, still with the price tags on them --man! this is very hard for me to admit.    All I can do, as I have been doing ,is model healthier behavior.  --- I appreciate knowing that you're instilling mental health values in your teen. 

    You don't say where you live, but this certainly isn't the middle school experience my daughter is having at an Oakland public middle school, and we live in Rockridge, which is reasonably affluent (even though we are not).  My daughter recently wanted a Nike item that some friends have, but it was a rain jacket, not a status symbol.  My son reports more brand consciousness in high school, but by no means ubiquitous and seems to do more with social media influencers who are now starting clothing brands.  Your experience sounds more like what friends have told me about places like Danville.  Our family sounds much like yours, and if I was experience what you are, I would want to move too.  We have always gone thrift shopping at places like Goodwill and my kids love finding bargains and that surprise something, which you can only experience in a store that doesn't have rack after rack of identical items.  We also talk about equity a lot, which I think helps with that kind of materialism.  If your daughter is planning to go to college, she's going to need some community service type thing on her resume anyway, so I would suggest finding some volunteer opportunities that would expose her to less fortunate segments of our society, particularly if they involve kids.  We have been making Christmas gift bags and Valentines lunch bags for the homeless for years now that we distribute with our kids.  Maybe your daughter just doesn't realize what a struggle simple survival can be for some people right here in the bay area.  Anyway, good luck and don't change your values.

    Wow, my arts-schooled 8th grader is right there, and it is so humiliating to me as a non-materialistic parent! where did she acquire this obsession with designer labels?? Here's my theory: Partly it's pop music celebrating an orgy of designer brands as a proof of success, amplified by social media images where brand names provide added impact and symbolize celebrity. It's also a way for kids to find a sense of security/identity in a world that feels so competitive and unstable. If life is a video game, which so many influences in their world suggest that it is, then designer brands are badges of success. And if you fear that failure=death, then wearing a big branded sweatshirt/belt/ bag/shoes is a way of reassuring yourself that you are "safe"? Maybe the craving for symbols of wealth is a way to deal with the giant identity-formation project that middle-schoolers are going through.

    We are very anti-label in our family, and we explain that in terms of values as well as what we can/can't afford. Lots of lectures about the opportunity cost of spending $300 on clothing--what can you NOT buy because you spent your money that way? The harder topic I haven't tackled yet is the difference between "old money"--very understated about wealth, though it's visible in subtle, coded ways--versus "new money"--ostentatious display, "tasteless" flaunting. Looking forward to talking about the class issues embedded in that one! Why is one approach to wealth "superior" to the other? Do we want to ally ourselves with "old" or "new" money? What does that say about us as a family? 

    On our Spring Break trip to NYC (we spend money on experiences rather than on things) we visited the 3-story pavilion of bling known as the Gucci store, housed at the foot of Trump Tower. Great people watching! I struggled to relax my moral disapproval and appreciate the aesthetic of excess. But am I worsening my daughter's obsession by allowing her to set foot on tainted territory? Or giving her a chance to gradually become aware of the absurdity of it all? Is it possible that this oeuvre of ostentation is an art form in its own right? 

    I don't know... but I pray our daughter outgrows the obsession and learns to spend her (not limitless) money on enriching her inner life not on social-media-ready displays of wealth.

    You got a lot of great answers, and I will just add a couple suggestions, echoing another poster. If she needs a new pair of pants, figure out how much you think is a good amount of money for that, and tell her you are giving her that much, and then if she wants something more expensive, she can earn money for that or save up allowance or earn money ... or go thrifting and end up with money to spend on something else!

    Next level is you give her a monthly (pretty large) allowance and tell her it is for everything: clothes, spending money, gifts for friends, and she can spend it as she likes (and earn more if she wants -- babysitting, petsitting for now, "real" job in a few years). I started doing this with my daughter when she felt like I was giving her too little to buy birthday presents for her friends (I think it was in middle school and probably similar kind of peer pressure), and it worked well. She is now an independent young adult who lives within her budget.