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A cycle of “compulsive consumerism” driven by materialism is leaving British family life in crisis, according to a study by the United Nations agency UNICEF.

The agency also blamed the phenomenon as one of the underlying causes of this year’s street rioting throughout Britain.

According to the study, British parents are trapping their children in a cycle of “showering them with toys and designer labels instead of spending quality time with them,” reports the British newspaper the Telegraph.

The study reported that children themselves said spending time with their families made them happier.

UNICEF is the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. It report warns that “materialism has come to dominate family life in Britain as parents ‘pointlessly’ amass goods for their children to compensate for their long working hours,” writes John Bingham in the Telegraph.

“While parents said they felt compelled into buying more,” writes Bingham, “the children themselves said spending time with their families made them happier. Unicef  said the obsession was one of the underlying causes of the riots and widespread looting which gripped the UK last month, as teenagers targeted shops for the designer clothes and goods.

The study was commissioned after an earlier report ranked Britain as the worst country in the industrialized world to be a child, writes Bingham:

It prompted David Cameron to coin the expression “broken Britain” and fueled calls for a raft of new family friendly policies.

In its latest study Unicef commissioned researchers from Ipsos Mori interviewed hundreds of children in Britain, Sweden and Spain, asking them about their ideas of happiness and success.

Researchers found that consumerism was less deeply embedded in Sweden and Spain, which rank significantly higher for the wellbeing of children.

British parents work longer hours and are simply “too tired” to play with their children whom in turn they can no longer control.

Families across the country, irrespective of social class or race, are less likely to spend time, eat or play games together, with children often left to their own devices.

In British households television is increasingly used as a “babysitter,” while children’s bedrooms have become “media bedsits” with computers, games consoles and widescreen TVs taking the place of dolls houses or model aeroplanes.

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