The High Risks of Consumerism

Brad M. Griffin | Apr 5, 2011

Today’s E-Journal features an article by youth worker and Fuller DMin student Kris Fernout on the outcomes of consumer-driven adolescent identity formation.

Here’s some scary stuff. Lifting straight from his article:

Kids who rely on the acquisition and display of material goods and brands to communicate their identity often find happiness elusive. In numerous studies of high school and college students, psychology researchers and professors Ryan and Kasser have found that individuals with materialistic or consumer-driven values reported decreased self-actualization and vitality and increased depression. ((Tim Kasser, The High Price of Materialism (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002), 11.))

Just as yesterdays luxuries have become todays necessities, ((Tom W. Sine, Jr., Globalization, Creation of Global Culture of Consumption and the Impact on the Church and its Mission, ERT 27:4 (2003), 259.)) yesterdays disturbed is the new normal. Kids between the ages of nine and seventeen typically score as high on anxiety scales as children and adolescents who were admitted to clinics for psychiatric disorders in 1957. ((Juliet B. Schor, Born To Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (New York: Scribner, 2004), 13.)) While it has not been proven that this is the direct result of increased consumeristic tendencies, a growing number of authors are noting the potential correlation.

In another study, 261 students revealed a direct correlation between strong materialistic and consumeristic value orientations and an increase of the likelihood of frequent substance abuse. ((Tim Kasser & Richard M. Ryan, Be careful what you wish for: Optimal functioning and the relative attainment of intrinsic and external goals, in Life goals and well-being: Towards a positive psychology of human striving, eds. P. Schmuck & K.M. Sheldon (Goettingen: Hogrefe & Huber, 2001), 116-131.)) As youth leaders and parents, this is a sobering reminder that an over-reliance on material possessions as a means of communicating identity and as a channel for affirmation could be a gateway to emotional instability and risky behavior.

Higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Our culture’s obsession with consuming has a high price tag. It would seem that our kids are paying that price with their emotional health.

What ideas or strategies do you have for pushing back against the wave of cultural influence leading kids toward consumer-based identities?

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.


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