Pressure to be Cool Can Lead to Downward Spiral for Kids

The pressure to be cool, look good, and own the “right stuff” is detrimental to many children and teenagers, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Sussex found that while many young people buy into the consumer culture, believing it will make them feel better about themselves and help them to make friends, often the reverse happens. The result is a negative downward spiral.

In a three-year study of 1,000 children in the UK between the ages of eight and 14, being disruptive, having “cool stuff” and looking good was often seen as the best way to become more popular.

The results, however, show that valuing these behaviors actually had the opposite effect, with peer relations worsening over time for those kids turning to consumer-culture values.

“Our results suggest that children who have low levels of well-being are particularly likely to become orientated towards consumer culture, and thus enter into a negative downward spiral,” said Dr. Matthew Easterbrook, a lecturer in psychology. “Consumer culture may be perceived as a coping mechanism by vulnerable children, but it is one that is detrimental to their well-being.”

“Although friendly and helpful children were ultimately more popular over time, young people mistakenly predicted that the route to being liked was in having a reputation for disruptive behavior, having ‘cool’ stuff and looking good,” added Robin Banerjee, a professor of developmental psychology.

“What we found was another example of a downward spiral — those rejected by peers then turned to consumer culture, which actually worsened, rather than improved, those relationships.”

The study also found some differences between boys and girls.

Depressive symptoms in boys tends to predict increases in their materialism, while depressive symptoms in girls tends to predict the internalization of appearance concerns, the researchers reported in the study, which was presented at the British Psychological Society’s Developmental and Social Psychology Section annual conference.

Source: University of Sussex