By Kathy P. Behan
Every time I see the commercial it burns me up. You know, the one where the kids are frantically playing in a room chock full of toys, and they stop to complain they’re bored. The implication is that their parents should rush to the store for another infusion of toys so their “toy nuts” will be satisfied.
This commercial highlights a common struggle between parents and kids — and it says the kids should win. On one side are children, who basically want everything they see. On the other side are parents, who have the fun job of explaining why this isn’t possible, and to instill in their offspring, to put it indelicately, the value of a buck.
Sounds like a pretty simple and straightforward lesson, but you know it’s not that easy. Many children have as their motto “ask and ye shall receive.” So they ask and ask and ask. Part of their cavalier attitude toward money is our own fault though. We sometimes make life too easy for them. In our efforts to show children love, we’ve showered them with a multitude of “things,” while forgetting to teach them that parental generosity has its limits, and that they should be grateful for what they have, as well as for what they’re given.
Even very young children should be taught these lessons. Unfortunately, kids don’t play fair. They constantly test and retest their parents on the finer points of these beliefs throughout their lifetimes, and often do so loudly and in public. Two-year-olds demand candy at the supermarket checkout counter; 4-year-olds, all the action figures in aisle five; teenagers insist on designer sneakers or jeans.
The worst part is once they get the desired item, it’s often not appreciated. One of my older son’s friends was visiting the other day and carelessly dropped his new plastic Bat plane. Not surprisingly it broke, but surprisingly he wasn’t the least bit upset. When my son asked him why, he promptly replied, “Cause my mom will buy me a new one.”
Instead of always being a “receiver,” let’s try to teach our children the joy and satisfaction of being a “giver.” Kids need to be taught that “sharing is caring,” and they should have the opportunity to experience this firsthand. Maybe they’d like to give some of their own money to a worthy cause or help choose and pack up canned goods for the homeless or pick out a toy for the “Toys For Tots” campaign. There are many worthwhile organizations that would appreciate even the most modest donation.
At this time of year when materialism vies with spiritualism, remember what’s really important. Let’s lavish our kids not with things, but with our time, attention, guidance and love. That’s the way to capture the true spirit and meaning of the holidays.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.
Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in family and health issues.