At Least You Can’t Accuse The Kids Of Wallowing In Bogus Selflessness

Sure, they lag behind the youngsters of other developed countries when it comes to learning math and science and the like. But the youth of America are highly precocious at mastering the attitudes endemic to a consumer society. If you retain any illusions about the innocence of youth, the findings of a new Harris Interactive survey of 8-18-year-olds will relieve you of them.

Kids are not at all bashful in declaring their enthusiasm for money and the things it can buy. Seventy-four percent of the poll’s 13-18-year-olds agreed with the statement, “I would be happier if I had more money to buy more things for myself.” So did 66 percent of the 8-12-year-olds. And they’re not just talking about candy bars, as a majority of respondents said they “would love to be able to buy things that cost lots of money” (59 percent of the 8-12-year-olds, 62 percent of the 13-18s). The tweens were even more likely than their teenaged elders to say they “really enjoy shopping” (76 percent vs. 62 percent). That’s consistent with the fact that the younger cohort is more susceptible to the power of envy: 64 percent of the tweens, vs. 40 percent of the teens, said they “like to buy things my friends have.” The tweens may also be more in thrall to the novelty of possessing things of their own. Forty-four percent of the tweens, vs. 31 percent of the teens, allowed that they “have fun just thinking of all the things I own.”

But the poll’s respondents certainly don’t see their materialism as a stage they’ll soon outgrow. Fifty-one percent of the tweens subscribed to the brazen declaration, “When I grow up, the more money I have, the happier I’ll be.” So did 48 percent of the teens. And they won’t sit back and hope to win the lottery. Rather, 48 percent of tweens and 47 percent of teens said the “only kind of job I want when I grow up is one that gets me money.” When the kids were asked to cite the “things that make you happy,” more mentions went to “money” (65 percent of tweens, 74 percent of teens) than to any one of the things it can purchase. Among the favorite items: a computer of their own (57 percent of tweens, 63 percent of teens), presents (63 percent of tweens, 55 percent of teens), new clothes (55 percent of tweens, 60 percent of teens) and CDs (48 percent of tweens, 67 percent of teens).

Finally, it’s striking how many youngsters were willing to give the obviously less palatable answers to the pollster’s queries. One example: 31 percent of the tweens and 28 percent of the teens subscribed to the statement, “I’d rather spend time buying things than doing almost anything else.” Give them points for candor, if nothing else.