Thursday, 1 September 2011

Girls, materialism and self-esteem.

If you had a 12-year old daughter how would you expect her to spend the summer holidays?

Girls today may not all be like me and pass the days pretending to be a pony (I know, don’t say it, I am a psychologist after all). But it seems that many are spending hours in front of a computer screen showing off the spoils from their latest spending spree.
The trend is called hauling and is reported in the news today. Girls record themselves showing their latest ‘haul’ from the shops and others can view them on youtube and leave comments. Unsurprisingly it’s a trend that’s come over from the U.S. where girls as young as 8 or 9 take part. 
Worryingly some girls are spending up to eight hours a day in front of the computer, having become addicted to obsessively checking for comments on their latest post. And not all the comments are positive, with one girl having been told she was too pale and her legs were ‘stumpy’.
The dangers of this activity barely need articulating but as a psychologist I worry about the self-esteem of these young girls and how fragile their sense of identify may be. In particular:
  • Research shows that materialism is strongly linked to low self-esteem in children. So kids who want more generally value themselves less.
  • Children repeat what they get attention for. It’s called positive reinforcement and underlies addictive behaviours. If you get a thousand ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from your on-line watchers every time you buy something, you’ll quickly get addicted to that attention and require more and more purchases to get the effect.
  • This sets the stage for, and increases the likelihood, of cyber-bullying. Blatant showing off of what we have can engender envy and jealousy in others. Some girls may get admiration from their friends but they may also fuel their enemies into hostility.
  • Studies show that experiences not stuff determine our levels of happiness. While these girls are shopping and showing off they are not having the experiences that will help them develop into positive and well-adjusted individuals.


  1. Great blog post Karen. Isn't it interesting how this ease of communication we now have is causing so much damage.

    How deeply worrying that this is becoming a trend and, even more alarming, that parents are encouraging this as a 'hobby'. I so often find a link between low self-esteem and overspending with the women I coach.

    Surely, they could be encouraged to find healthier, more fulfilling, 'hobbies'!

  2. You're right Simonne, I think there was even some research a while back that showed that walking round a shopping mall had the effect of lowering self-esteem!
    Technology has brought us fantastically good things but there's always a downside, and we really have to protect kids from the latter.


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