Although we discussed numerous times before that materialism doesn't buy happiness, most of these studies have been looking at adults. This one observed kids. It found raising a kid's self esteem reduced their longing for the perceived security of possessions.
Lan Nguyen Chaplin and Deborah Roedder John, in a work published in the December 2007 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, found that "between the ages of eight to 13, a child's level of self-esteem drops, in part because of physical changes. The self-conscious tweens turn to material goods to make themselves feel better. Then, surprisingly, as self-esteem rebounds by the end of high school, roughly between the ages of 16 and 18, the need for consumer goods goes down."
Chaplin and John suggest, "Our results indicate that simple actions to raise self-esteem among young consumers can have a dramatic impact on expressions of materialism." In the study this was achieved simply by given the kids paper plates with positives comments on them. In an article reporting on the study it says raising a child's self-esteem can be accomplished by locking in on an interest like drawing, music, sports, fantasy play, debating and then providing positive, supportive messages. But they caution about overdoing the plaudits.
"If a child has a stronger sense of self during these down-swings, the researchers believe, they're less likely to see material goods as the key to happiness and popularity." ::Journal of Consumer Research (article not free online) via Sydney Morning Herald