Families are experimenting with minimalism as a parenting philosophy in a bid to combat the negative impact of Australia’s consumer culture.
Social psychologist and educator Dr Helen Street said children of families who place a high value on possessions are more likely to develop depression than children of families who are more intrinsically motivated.
“Children who want lots of stuff whether it be toys or money, more than they want fulfilling relationships or adventure are more prone to depression and struggling with their own wellbeing.”
In an attempt to reduce the negative impact of consumerism on their children, minimalist couple Michelle, and Nick Wilson are raising Oscar, seven, and Izzy, four with the “experiences over things” attitude.
“It’s hard for children to comprehend the gravity of what consumerism is. They are attracted to flashy lights and in our son’s case, robots…every ad they do see, it’s ‘I want that’,” Mr Wilson, 29, a medical representative, says.
Living in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, an area well-known for wealth and material focus, they have found raising children with a “less is more attitude” sometimes challenging.
However, their youngest child has embraced the lifestyle - donating her unused toys and clothes.
“She’ll look at it and go ‘let’s donate this…then someone else can find value in it’. She’s four and using those words,” Mrs Wilson, 34, a medical scientist, said.
Dr Helen Street’s study, “Understanding the relationships between wellbeing, goal-setting, and depression in children” suggested that some children (aged 10 – 12) conceptualize happiness as an outcome that is dependent on their important achievements and acquisitions.
“This conceptualization is related to depression, alternatively, non-depressed children tended to conceptualize happiness as a process independent of goal achievement or failure,” she said.
Dr Street said it wasn’t inherently bad for children to want material possessions, but it became a problem when children believed their happiness was conditional on having a product.
“Most advertising encourages young people to think that their life will be better, more fulfilled and happier if they buy whatever product it is that is being marketed to them."
Consumer group CHOICE’s Kate Browne said the way in which children’s products were marketed had drastically changed over the years.
Previously, products were advertised to parents so they would buy them for their children. Now, with the introduction of personalised advertising through social media, companies advertise directly to children.
“They’re going straight over the heads of the parents.”
“Social media, toy reviews and unboxing videos are really powerful as they come across as really genuine,” she said.
“You’re watching a cute kid make funny videos and in the middle of it she’s promoting a product…it’s really hard for children to distinguish that from reality.”
Ms Browne said it was important to teach children to understand the purpose behind advertising and encourage critical thinking.
“It’s really important not to underestimate kids and what they can understand, marketers certainly don’t underestimate kids, they know they are perfect little consumers”.