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Does Your Teen Have a Shopping Problem?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Michael Gutter, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Back in my day, teens got a ride to the mall when they had money to spend. I never had a whole lot of extra cash myself (seems like I was always saving for something), but some of the girls I knew were big into shopping.

More Opportunity to Spend…and Spend

Today, of course, the mall is still an option for teens–with clothes, shoes, accessories, and especially electronics offering temptation. But now, we can also shop in our pajamas with the click of a mouse, 24/7, 365 days a year.

Adolescence is a time when young people experience more freedom and begin to be able to make more decisions about money. For some, however, this newfound ability to spend can become a concern. A 2011 paper published in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry surveyed about 4000 teens from a variety of backgrounds to learn about problematic shopping behavior in this age group.

Problem Shopping Linked to Other Problems

For instance, teens were asked whether they had tried unsuccessfully to cut back on shopping, whether family members had expressed concern about their purchasing habits, and whether they felt tension that could only be relieved by buying new items. They also reported how often they engaged in other problem behavior (like drinking, smoking, drug use, or fighting), and how often they felt angry or depressed.

Overall, 2.5 percent of boys and almost 4 percent of girls reported symptoms that might indicate problem shopping. What’s more, teens reporting problem shopping also appeared to be at risk for other issues. For instance, they were more likely to smoke cigarettes, use drugs, drink heavily, feel sad or hopeless, become involved in fights,  or carry a weapon.

Root Causes

What’s the connection between shopping and these other concerns? These researchers suggest that teens who are inclined to problem shopping behavior may be those who are prone to addictive or impulsive behaviors in general. They also may be using shopping to cope with stress or low self-esteem.

Most adults experiencing problem shopping say their issues started as teens. “Shopping addiction” can destroy relationships and ruin finances, so it’s important to nip this problem in the bud. If you suspect your teen is developing an unhealthy relationship with shopping, speak to a counselor. Visit the resources in Further Reading for more on problem shopping.

Photo Credits: Fuse/Thinkstock

Further Reading

Shopping Spree, or Addiction?

Shopping Addiction


Grant, J. E., Potenza, M. N., Krishnan-Sarin, S., Cavallo, D. A., & Desai, R. A. (2011). Shopping problems among high school students. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 52(3), 247-252.

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2012). Problem shopping in teens [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)