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Pester Power: Why Children Need Possessions To Feel Happy

26/11/2011 14:05 | Updated 22 May 2015
Happy child holding presentRex Features

A new interactive video game called Skylanders has just come out and my seven year-old son would quite like it for Christmas.

Actually, when I say he would 'quite like' it, he in fact 'needs' it. And when I say 'needs', the actual words that spill from his mouth like a plea for mercy are: 'But I neeeeeeeeeeeed it, Daaaaad. You don't understaaaaaaaaaand.'

And if he doesn't get this latest object of his desire, then he can never, ever be happy again. Oh, and how he sulks to prove just how unhappy he can really be.

Until a week ago, Skylanders was a word I'd never heard before. A week later, it's everywhere. One mum, Tara Cain, wrote on her Sticky Fingers blog: 'Skylanders have taken over my eight- year-old son. I'm told it's one of the 'must have' toys for this Christmas and all I've heard from him all week is "so cool" and "sick" (which I'm also told is a good thing) and that he's told every one of his friends that they have to have one too.'

Which is precisely the issue with my boy. His best friend was bought Skylanders for his birthday last week. The game basically involves plastic characters that come to life and then leap onto your TV screen via Wii or Playstation.

Last night, I had to virtually drag my son kicking and screaming from his friend's house because he wanted one last go. On the way home, he virtually crawled behind me, clinging onto my ankles, begging me to get him one for Christmas, because as far as he is concerned, his life would be a pointless, empty existence without one.

My son is no different to the majority of modern youngsters. Research by The Children's Society has found that if kids miss out on 'must-have' material goods, such as iPods, satellite TVs or the latest computer games, they don't feel 'normal'.

The best things in life aren't free, it found: they are extremely b*****y expensive!

The researchers interviewed 5,000 boys and girls between the ages of eight and 15 about their levels of happiness and wellbeing. They showed the kids a list of 10 'must-have' possessions and found that young people lacking two or more material items were less happy than those given everything they wanted.

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The driving force behind this is F.O.M.O – the Fear Of Missing Out. Children want to have what their peers have because if they don't, they lose status. Today's pecking orders are judged in pounds and pence.

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The most desirable material possession, according to the research, was pocket money, with 22 per cent of those surveyed wanting it, but not receiving it.

In our family, pocket money is earned by completing tasks. I give my son 50p for every book he reads – and over the months he has amassed a fortune of £30, which he point blank refuses to spend a penny of! Having the money seems more desirable than the things he could spend it on. Although my theory is that he refuses to spend it because he knows that Daddy Muggins will buy him what he wants anyway.

Other objects of F.O.M.O desire were personal music players, such as iPods, with 17 per cent of the poll; designer or brand name trainers (13 per cent); the 'right kind of clothes to fit in' (6 per cent); and cable or satellite TV (5 per cent).

Depressing, isn't it? How are we raising our kids if the only things that make them happy are the super-branded, hyper-marketed products that cost we parents an arm and a leg?

Psychologist Aric Sigman said that while the desire to fit in is age-old, today's youngsters have a greater sense of entitlement than previous generations.

But it's not all gloomy news. While our youngsters today 'neeeeeeeed' stuff to keep up with their peers, they still value the non-material – especially spending time with their families and friends.

The survey revealed that family trips or days out tied for second place in children's happiness rating. And a healthy 15 per cent got most joy out of going on family holidays.

A spokesman for the Children's Society said: 'It is not all materialistic. There is lots of stuff about wanting to spend time with their family and playing.'

Tara Cain's experience bears this out. 'My eight year-old adores his Wii/PS3 with a passion, but he'll drop those controllers like a ton of hot bricks if anyone offers to throw a rugby ball outside/go for a walk/drive up to our local forest and root around in the undergrowth with him!' she says.

'Both my kids have learned that while "stuff" is great and fun and exciting, it just cannot match the real life thrill of reaching the top branches of a tree or getting your shoes stuck in a particularly boggy patch of ground you've been poking with that Perfect Stick.'

Children feel happier when they have the same possessions as their friends, but do you think this is right or a sad indictment of the way we live now?

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