Social Media Makes Teens Materialistic. Science Suggests Mindfulness Can Help.
Having a contemplative practice can curb the impulse to "want want want."
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Kids! They’re always asking for something. The newest sneakers. The latest phone. That coveted video game console.
That tendency to want, want, want may be exacerbated by—surprise!—social media. But it’s not that simply engaging in social media makes young people materialistic. A recent study of more than 800 adolescents indicates that the link between social media use and materialism may be connected with a teen’s levels of self esteem and mindfulness. Here’s how it works.
The Cons of Making Comparisons
Researchers looking at the relationship between social media use and materialism found that the more adolescents use social media, the more opportunities there are to rate themselves and compare what they own to others.
Psychologists call our tendency to measure ourselves against others “social comparison.” Upward social comparison is when you compare yourself with someone who seems to have it better than you; downward social comparison looks at someone who is worse off. When a child—or anyone, really—perceives other people as having more or doing better, it can increase their sense of missing out or wanting more.
It makes sense, then, that if a teen’s sense of self worth is low, they may be more likely to perceive others as doing better or having more. And how to compensate for that uncomfortable feeling? Make up for it by buying something new.
Can Mindfulness Minimize Materialism?
While the research identified esteem as a direct link between social media use and materialism, researchers also found that having a mindfulness practice can soften the materialistic edge.
Tracy L. Daniel, PhD, a child psychologist and founder of Mindful Child Aerial Yoga and Wellness, explains it this way: “Mindfulness is free of judgment—it is simply being present in the moment, not labeling things as good or bad. This ability to reflect and not judge may be associated with children not comparing themselves with others on social media.”
They may be less likely to feel envious of someone else’s belongings or triggered by seeing someone else do well. She says she has noticed that children who have a mindfulness practice tend to pause and reflect instead of reacting with an impulsive desire for something just because they see it.
“Instead of reacting like ‘I wish I had this,’ they can reflect on ‘I’m grateful I have what I have,’” she says.
“A consistent mindfulness practice can change the brain and the way children react to situations,” says Daniel. She sites research by Harvard psychology professor Sara Lazar who studies the neuroscience of yoga and meditation. Lazar’s research found that practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes a day for 8 weeks can be an effective way to change habits of thinking.
How to Teach Your Child–and Yourself—Mindfulness
Helping your teen become more mindful, though, means getting your teen off the phone for that long. And that may be easier said than done.
First, remind them that mindfulness isn’t just sitting in silence. (Boring!) There are all kinds of ways to pay mindful attention. Cooking and eating involves attending to the aroma, color, texture temperature, and taste of food. Except for the taste part, the same applies to painting, working with clay, or doing some other hands-on craft. Dance or another form of movement may help your young one more aware of how they feel in their bodies. Get in touch with your child’s interests and find a mindful application.
“Set a time limit for social media by setting an alarm,” says Daniel, author of Mindfulness for Children: 150+ Mindfulness Activities for Happier, Healthier, Stress-Free Kids. “Once the time is up, put your phones on airplane mode and do something fun.”
Airplane mode applies to everyone.
“You want to model it for children,” she says. “If you’re modeling being on your phone or on social media, that’s what children are going to see and that’s what they’re going to do.”
Also incorporate mindfulness into their daily activities. Help them learn to pay attention to what they are sensing and experiencing. “So if you’re brushing your teeth, what does the toothpaste look like? What does it smell like? What sounds do I hear from the water? What does it feel like? What do I taste?” Learning to notice and appreciate the details of their lives can make them happier and mentally healthier. (That goes for you, too.)