A recent article in TES Scotland reported claims that:
"Materialism has reached 'toxic' levels, affecting the mental health of young people, their relationships and their attainment in school. That appears to be the conclusion reached by various strands of research from Scotland's Centre for Confidence and Well-being, to the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel set up in the wake of the riots in England last summer, to a report last year by Ipsos MORI for Unicef into children's well-being.
"All point to a growing compulsion to 'buy stuff' and a glorification of celebrity culture. There has, it appears, been a behavioural shift in the last generation. And increasingly, the question is being asked what schools should, and should not, be doing to address the issues thrown up by young people intent on keeping up with each other in the acquisition of more and more branded goods and by parents unable to resist peer pressure.
"Carol Craig, director of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being, based in Glasgow, believes materialism is a particularly British phenomenon, even among developed nations. She is focusing her organisation's efforts this year on the issues of materialism, celebrity and the unwholesome values they promote."
"Consumerist messages emanate from everywhere including charities that hold lavish gala fundraisers, and even schools which lavish praise indiscriminatingly, says Dr Craig. Her contention is that schools are guilty of undermining basic standards of behaviour by rewarding things that should be taken for granted, like 'good listening'.
"'Seven-year-olds are coming home from school with certificates for being "a good listener" but surely they are expected to be good listeners? Is that not reducing standards and giving the wrong message? Our society is now shot through with this idea of people only doing things for some kind of monetary or other reward not because the thing itself gives a feeling of satisfaction or sense of doing the right thing.
"'Schools need to think seriously about how they are undermining basic standards by rewarding good behaviour for things that should be taken for granted. We are not encouraging schools to cultivate a sense of personal satisfaction,' says Dr Craig."
Dr Craig has also said (source: Iain Harrison, The Sunday Post):
"It's all part of a growing culture to coax youngsters to do the right thing using rewards and praise rather than cultivating a sense of personal satisfaction.
"It's gone completely overboard. There's an assumption in schools that if you want to get children to do something you introduce a rewards scheme.
"Ultimately we're bringing up children to believe they should be getting rewards for doing things rather than the intrinsic satisfaction that comes being a good citizen.
"It's easier to give kids praise or money than show interest in and question what they're doing. It's a short-cut.
"As a society our value system has become skewed and many of us are now motivated by doing things for money and how it will make us look.
"Research shows the more people pursue these things in life the worse their well-being is."
We have heard of situations where the school offered outdoor leisure incentives, such as white water rafting, in school time to on-report pupils whose behaviour had improved in less than a term, while other pupils who behaved well for a whole year were rewarded with ten-pin bowling in their own time. Some would argue that this type of scheme could be an incentive for some pupils to misbehave and then 'improve' in order to gain a place on the leisure activity they would prefer!
Voice's Senior Professional Officer (Scotland), Jennifer Hannah, told journalist Iain Harrison:
"I sympathize with Dr Craig's belief that it's better for good behaviour to be motivated by personal satisfaction and conscience. However, it is necessary to encourage this through normal social interaction, which often involves the use of rewards in order to teach and nurture appropriate attitudes and behaviour.
"This 'socialisation' process usually starts in the home but continues at school. Generally, it's over by the end of primary school but, increasingly, secondary schools are finding that a growing number of pupils have not undergone normal 'socialisation', often because of poor parenting or family instability.
"It is also common in modern societies like ours for children and young people to be influenced more by their friends and classmates than by their parents or school.
"All of this can produce a situation where children and young people can be relatively unresponsive to discipline.
"As these children don't have 'normal' basic standards of behaviour, such as 'good listening', these standards need to be encouraged by incentives so the children adopt them.
"We're not born with 'good behaviour' it is taught. If it hasn't been taught, it's not something which can be taken for granted it still needs to be encouraged. If this is the reason for these rewards schemes, then they should be encouraged.
"It's easy to lose sight of the real goal of such schemes, and this can lead to the abuses highlighted by Dr Craig where a 'rewards for all' culture develops, which produces the very opposite of what is intended or where those who design and run such schemes don't understand what they're really for.
"One of our members told me that, when he was growing up, he was encouraged to be a good listener by taking part in family conversations or listening to what adults such as teachers and sports coaches had to say. His parents' reward system was pocket money for doing set tasks like washing dishes, cutting the grass or walking the dog.
"Nowadays, however, he sees children spending much of their time with buds in their ears whether that's in their rooms or walking down the street oblivious to the sights and sounds around them.
"He commented that pupils can often behave in a disgruntled, or even confrontational, way if they're asked to take the buds from their ears to listen to the teacher and when they do take the earpieces out they sometimes leave the music on so it can still be heard.
"In his view, this was because no-one ever tells them to take them out at home, and rewarding pupils for making a commitment to education was perhaps the only way teachers had available to them.
"He thought that the reasons and the solution to this decline in standards lay with parents."
Through its membership of the Scottish Advisory Group on Behaviour in Schools (SAGBIS), Voice has been told of several examples of Rewards/Restorative approaches that have had a positive impact on schools, as opposed to a negative punishment ethos. Such methods have been reflected in fewer exclusions and improved academic performance.
Wider concerns over materialism are not new.
Girls' School Association President Dr Helen Wright has warned of a "moral abyss" undermining childhood.
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, more than 200 academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders, including Philip Parkin, Voice's General Secretary, raised their concerns that children's well-being and mental health were being undermined by the pressures of modern life. The group urged the Government to address a culture of "too much, too soon" in Britain, with measures such as a ban on all forms of advertising aimed at the youngest children.
Dr Wright also criticised programmes like The X-Factor. At that time, Voice was approached by a journalist who wanted to know if the X Factor was setting a bad example to young people, making their behaviour worse and, consequently, making teachers' work more difficult.
A spokesperson for Voice said:
"The media's obsession with the programme is giving it a far greater significance in popular culture and people's behaviour and conversations than it merits or actually has.
"It also gives the impression to the impressionable that fame and fortune are the answer to all life's problems and can be achieved easily through appearing on television rather than through talent, study, application and hard work ."