Does Lil Tay sound like a nine-year-old your child knows? The “youngest flexer of the century” was an internet sensation before her materialistic persona dragged her and her family down. With two million followers, Lil Tay didn’t shy away from using profanity to call other people broke or kick a Rolls-Royce. Accessories in her posts included wads of cash and million-dollar homes. She isn’t the first or only young one showing off money and what it can buy. What is this new trend on social media?
Flexing on the Gram
Flexing (showing off wealth) on the Gram (Instagram) has become a popular social media trend. Upcoming celebrities like “Gucci Gang” rapper Lil Pump flex on the gram to prove they’ve made it to the top. His image is particularly known for flashing Gucci threads head to toe. When critics say he’s inadequate, Lil Pump argues his expensive clothing makes him worthy.
Other social media celebrities flex to build their brand in the same way. Rubber bands of cash and expensive goods bring thousands of likes and millions of followers. Riches reflect success, and outrageous posts attract engagement. Internet personality RiceGum is a perfect example. His YouTube diss tracks are notorious for bragging about his money, cars, and a million-dollar home. His lyrics talk about how all those things make him better than other YouTube stars.
Instagram Envy Leads to Compare and Despair
With a continuous stream of real-time, unfiltered, unedited, and freshly published posts, fans have an on-demand, front-row seat of the lavish lifestyles of the rich and famous. The compare and despair of watching friends, celebrities, and idols live lavish lifestyles makes them believe they too need cars, houses, and clothes to succeed in life. Ariana Grande promotes the idea in her hit single “7 Rings,” “Whoever said money can’t solve your problems must not have had enough money to solve ’em.” 
Social psychologists call this new phenomenon Instagram Envy. Child psychologist, Allen Kanner, states that children believe, “If I could have this product that’s associated with all of this success, then I’m going to be able to join this world. I’ll feel better about myself.”
Provoking envy and anxiety makes fans want to spend, leading a generation too willing to go into impulsive consumerism and higher levels of debt. A 2017 analysis discovered a rise in credit card debt for young adults 18 – 20 years old where the average amount owed was $611.
Studies have found that materialism among children may cause them to become overly focused on what they can gain from friends and family and contribute to more self-centeredness and aggression towards others.
In extreme cases, children blame their parents for not providing the materialistic wealth they desire. When their parents can’t help them, children buy high fashion knock-offs on the internet or the streets. For example, replicas of Kanye West’s designer sneakers called “Yeezys” are highly sought after.
Profits made from these fake designer goods fund illegal organizations. These organizations take part in “terrorism and the trafficking of drugs, people, sex and wildlife.”
It’s difficult to explain to children that not everything that glitters is gold. Studies have shown that being rich and famous are top priorities for today’s generation. Social media has given a false idea that such a lifestyle is easily achieved overnight. However, most of the money shown off on social media doesn’t really belong to the person who’s posting about it. Children forget that social media is a staged reality. For instance, the cars and mansions Lil Tay posed in actually belonged to the homes that her mother represented as a realtor.
Some show off on social media to make a statement to the world. People want to prove they’ve made it to the top. They want to exhibit their strengths and accomplishments. Others show off “to arouse jealousy, envy, or other negative emotions” in others. They create Instagram Envy to prove that they can’t be overshadowed. Some people believe that showing off their money will bring them more friends. Teens are particularly vulnerable to the need for attention and validation.
Ideas About How to Start a Fun Conversation With Your Kids
Here at GetKidsInternetSafe, we want your children to dream big and accomplish their aspirations. Social media takes down walls to show that all-star athletes and pop artists were once normal kids too. They did their homework and helped their mother with the groceries. But be wary of the other messages that Instagram Envy and Flexing tell our children. At GKIS we have developed the How to Spot Red Flags Marketing Supplement to help parents navigate the murky waters of modern advertising to teens.
Counter the social media culture by having in-depth conversations on concepts your kids have yet to think about. For example:
Showing off material wealth on social media brings fans, not friends.
Teaching your kids that, rather than bringing more friends, studies have shown that people prefer to be friends with someone of a simpler lifestyle. These fake friends often have ulterior motives.
How does wealth affect relationships with friends? Genuine friends will always be by your side whether you’re rich or poor.
Can you have quality relationships if you’re breaking others down to build yourself up?
Wealth comes from a good work ethic.
Children are brainwashed into thinking that being disrespectful and obscene on the internet can easily roll in cash. Doing dangerous pranks, making hurtful comments, and participating in age-inappropriate activities are just a few examples. Start a discussion about how wealth actually comes about.
What is a good work ethic?
What is perseverance, and what do people learn from it? Making a sustainable income doesn’t happen overnight. Most successful people put in hours of hard work before making it to the top. Some fail a few times before catching their big break. Enduring the journey towards success will teach you more about yourself than the shortcut.
Follow uplifting social media sites created to inspire with positivity and stories of hope.
Some posts give advice or insight to encourage others. That’s why impoverished children idolize Instagrams of famous rappers who came from the same projects. They see someone from the same struggling upbringings break the barriers for a better life.
Your values define your definition of “wealth.”
People value different things, and what we value forms our idea of what wealth is. These values change throughout our lives as we learn through our experiences. As children grow through their personal journeys, help them become the best versions of themselves.
- What are your dreams?
- What kind of image do you want for yourself?
- Do you want to help make the world a better place?
- Is passion for your career worth more than money in your pocket?
- Is working countless hours of overtime worth it for a fancy car?
- In what ways does it benefit family life or take away from it?
These examples will help you start a mutual, complex conversation with your children so they can think further than celebrating a Rolls Royce. You’ll be able to pass on your wisdom, navigate their confusion, and give them the confidence to aim higher.
Thanks to Hanna Dangiapo for covering this modern topic! Want to learn more ways to protect your child from RiceGum-like content? Check out Dr. Bennett’s GKIS Connected Family Online Course
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
Works Cited Anderson, Lane & Taylor, Amanda. “The Instagram effect: How the psychology of envy drives consumerism.” Deseret News: U.S. & World, 19 September 2016.  Dholakia, Utpal M. “Why People Should Stop Bragging on Social Media.” Psychology Today, 19 February 2018. Dodgson, Lindsay. “’Flexing’ or bragging about your expensive things may stop you from making friends, research shows.” Insider, 15 January 2019.  Nittle, Nadra. “Lil Pump Loves Gucci, and His Teen Fans Are Buying In.” Racked, 9 February 2018.  O’Donnell, Lynne. “Fake fashion fuels vast illegal profits, funding terrorism and trafficking.” The Star, 28 February 2017.  Social House & TBHits. “7 rings.” Genius, 2019.  Tenbarge, Kat. “Lil Tay Deleted All of Her Instagram Posts and Issued an Ominous Message.” Inverse, 5 July 2018.  Vandana, Usha Lenka. “A review on the role of media in increasing materialism among children.” ScienceDirect, 2014.