He cried when he opened his present.
Actual real tears running down his cheeks.
Nope, not tears of happiness. To him, Santa betrayed him.
My husband and I wrapped our kids Santa gift on Christmas Eve. Both of our kids had gone up to bed and we had – what we thought – one fantastic gift for both of them: tickets to one of their favorite America’s Got Talent winner: Darci Lynne.
They both love her. Constantly singing her songs, imitating her routines. It was a slam dunk.
Or so we thought…
When our daughter, Cam, saw the bottom of the box where the tickets were taped, she screamed. Erik cried.
“What… bud. You like Darci Lynne”
“No, I don’t. I don’t like her. I wanted Paw Patrol Flip and Fly Vehicles”
Curses to you, advertisements
Here’s the kicker: he doesn’t even watch Paw Patrol anymore. So why his fixation on these toys?
Commercials. He had watched all the commercials in between episodes of Max & Ruby recorded on our DVR.
As soon as he saw those cars, it’s all he could talk about. But I knew that it would be one more toy that he would play with for ten minutes and would then get thrown in the toy chest.
No. He doesn’t get another toy for Christmas. I wanted him to enjoy an experience with the rest of this instead of one more piece of stuff.
In his book, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids who are Grounded, Generous, and Smart about Money, author Ron Lieber, mentions a study where a group of kids watched advertisements for toys while another group did not.
When given the choice of playing with a new friend and playing with that toy, most of the control group chose the toy. Simply being exposed to one commercial made the five-year-olds value a thing over a relationship with other people.
Read: Are my Kids Spoiled?
Wait… did TV make my child materialistic?
Yes and no.
By definition, materialism is when people value things over relationships with other people.
More specifically when:
- You judge your success or other people’s success based on what they own.
- You believe attaining a certain item will lead to happiness
- How important an item is in your own life. The influence of media on kids is profound.
But this doesn’t mean that you need to swear off TV forever. I don’t think it is an evil thing. From now on, I will be muting the commercials.
In the meantime, here is how we can parent to counter the effects of materialism and have more grounded kiddos.
You saw how our event tickets failed miserably for our son. There’s bound to be a little
We’ve been using experiences as gifts for our daughter and she prefers them over things.
Experiences don’t need to be an expensive concert either.
- gift coupons for free screen time
- Have a special day out at the zoo
- Make a coupon that kids can redeem for you turning off your phone (I know my kids would redeem this in a heartbeat)
Rethink Rewards and Punishments
According to a study, the use of material rewards may contribute to materialism later on in life.
Examples of material rewards are promising a toy for good grades. As a punishment, it could be taking away a tablet for bad behavior – which I have done.
Instead of using things as rewards and punishments, we can use privileges or experiences. Good grades in our house and end of quarter usually mean a trip to frozen yogurt – our family celebration place of choice.
As for punishments, well… I don’t suggest you punish your kids. Here’s the method I use instead.
What about when kids compare their stuff with each other?
When I went to middle school, Mossimo and No Fear shirts were all the rage. It seemed like everyone owned one.
They were much pricier than what my family usually spent on clothes. I never got one and felt a little left out.
We remember these feelings so strongly from our childhood and in our well-intentioned attempts to protect our kids, simply buy them the clothes and stuff they desire.
But is there another way we can teach our kids to fit in that doesn’t involve stuff?
According to Ron Lieber, instead of focusing on possessions, we can help our kids a skill. For example, playing an instrument or a sport. Kids can bond with each other over these shared experiences rather than stuff.
How we react to stuff may have the biggest impact on how our kids view stuff.
According to an article in the Atlantic, “parents who act in ways that value things, parents who make a lot of sacrifices to get a lot of things, parents who get a lot of joy from buying things, and parents who talk a lot about things—they tend to have adult children who act the same way.”
Not to say that you shouldn’t find joy in the little stuff. This is more of a broad guideline than an absolute hard rule. Keep it in mind, but don’t feel guilty showing excitement about that new pair of beautiful shoes.
The one action found to counter materialism
We hear about it all the time. Practicing gratitude forms new pathways in our brains. We’re happier, more resilient.
But did you know gratitude also helps counter materialism in pre-teens? According to this study, a survey of pre-teens and adolescents found that kids who were less materialistic were also more grateful.
Surprisingly, gratitude also had an effect on generosity. In the second part of the study, adolescents were split into two random groups with one group keeping a gratitude journal and the other did not.
Then, the researchers gave students money and the option to either donate it or keep it.
Those students who kept a gratitude journal donated 60% more of their earnings to charity.
Gratitude is a powerful practice.
If you’re concerned about your kids being too materialistic
There are still plenty of ways to counter it.
By putting TV commercials on mute, rethinking gifts or even practicing gratitude, we as parents can have a powerful effect on our kids relationship with stuff as well as their generosity.