Parents are trapping their children in a cycle of "compulsive consumerism" by showering them with toys and designer labels instead of spending time with them, a UN report has found.
The report by Unicef warns that materialism has come to dominate family life in the UK as parents "pointlessly" amass goods for their children to compensate for their long working hours.
The children themselves said that spending time with their families made them happier.
Unicef suggested that the obsession with consumer goods was one of the underlying causes of the riots and widespread looting which gripped England last month.
The organisation called for the British government to ban advertising aimed at children under the age of 12 and to encourage parents to work fewer hours and spend more time at home.
It also warned against closing playgrounds and other facilities.
The study, which was jointly funded by the UK Department for Education, was commissioned after an earlier Unicef report ranked Britain as the worst country in the industrialised world to be a child.
It prompted David Cameron to coin the expression "broken Britain" and fuelled calls for new family-friendly policies.
In the latest study, researchers asked hundreds of children in the UK, Sweden and Spain, about their ideas of happiness and success. They found that children in Sweden and Spain, where consumerism was less deeply embedded, were significantly happier. In those countries, family time is prioritised and people feel less pressure to own material goods, the study found.
Parents in the UK work longer hours and are simply "too tired" to play with their children.
Dr Agnes Nairn, the author of the report, said: "Parents in the UK almost seemed to be locked into a system of consumption which they knew was pointless but they found hard to resist.
"While children would prefer time with their parents to heaps of consumer goods, their parents seem to find themselves under tremendous pressure to purchase a surfeit of material goods for their children. This compulsive consumption was almost completely absent in both Spain and Sweden."
Sarah Teather, the British Children's Minister, said: "We share Unicef's concerns about the rise of consumerism among children, and it's worrying to see that in some cases parents are under the same pressures."
She said the government was working to implement earlier recommendations on the issue. (© Daily Telegraph, London)