Last week I was interviewed for an editorial article on the topic of children and gifts during this holiday season … and it got me thinking. As parents how well do we prepare are kids for the onslaught of advertisement? Our children are bombarded from television ads, online ads, and every other form of advertisement with the latest “must-have” toys, electronic gadgets and cool clothes.
I hear parents all the time, say that they HAVE to get their kids the latest “stuff” because their kids NEED them! Furthermore, parents are experiencing a lot of anxiety because this year more than any in recent past, their budget is rather limited. Everyone knows that we are in a tough economic period. For most people, born after the Great Depression, this has come as quite a shock! They don’t want to let their kids down, who have grown used to getting everything that they ask for.
This is a great opportunity for parents to teach their kids the difference between wants and needs. When kids say “I need to have the latest iPod, (even though I have two more, but they’re old…”), they misunderstand needs vs. wants. Needs are basic necessities of life like food, shelter, clothing, guidance, and love. Wants are everything else that the advertisers have very cleverly made SO appealing.
Given the current budgetary restraints of most households, this is a great time to teach kids the importance of prioritizing. If they have ten things that they want for Christmas, perhaps it would help them (and their parents) to pick their top 3! If there’s only enough money to buy the top gift, then when birthdays or graduations come around, the parents can get them #2 and #3 on the list. It will teach the kids patience and a real understanding, that in life you don’t always get what you want, nor do you get it instantly. Delayed gratification is one of the signs of maturity. Or, even better, how about if the children work to do extra chores around the house or the neighborhood and earn the money for # 2 or #3 themselves!
Another problem I’ve seen is that far too many parents equate lots of gift giving to giving lots of love. I believe this is called a “parental shortcut.” Good parenting is spending quality time with your children, resolving issues, listening patiently and expressing love, support and tenderness. Honestly when kids grow up they don’t remember the toys. They remember the special times spent together as a family. They remember the traditions, the laughter, the games, the Christmas songs around the fireplace. They remember the activities, like building a snowman, going sledding and having snowball “wars.”
The truth is that gifts break or get lost, sometimes the very same day that they are opened! On the other hand, happy, joyful memories are NEVER lost! That’s what makes our childhood so special…and that’s the best gift of all for us as parents to give to our children!
Elia Gourgouris Ph.D.