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“I want that!”

How parents can avoid the trap of keeping up with the Joneses

As parents of young children in 1913, you and your spouse are wondering just what is going on in this new century. The commercialism in the latest issue of St. Nicholas Magazine is rampant. What child doesn’t pretend to gallop on a horse? Imagination and childhood go together like bread and butter! But this ad says it’s more fun to own a real Shetland pony! Western Electric proclaims that girls need tiny working stoves. During your childhood, there were only two department store chains; now there are more than 150! Stores have Children’s Days! Do they think children are going to buy ponies, toy stoves and go on shopping outings? Children aren’t customers! Where is the world heading?

Spiritual values are counter-cultural.

Generations of parents have struggled with how to respond to marketing that is directed toward children. There was a time when a parent could avoid stores and limit the advertisements coming into the home. Now, awareness of all there is to covet permeates society. I remember an advertisement geared toward loans for big-ticket items that said, “You can never have enough toys.” Of course, you can! In principle, most of us agree that children’s possessions must be limited. Actually doing it, however, isn’t easy.

Don’t be pestered into purchases!

As a toddler, my daughter Erin liked to wear a microwave popper as a space helmet and sit in an empty cupboard after clearing out all the pots and pans. As most parents discover, toddlers often enjoy boxes more than the presents within! Simplicity is appreciated. Before long, however, children’s eyes light up at every stuffed animal that resembles a favorite TV character. Soon, parents hear, “Everyone but me has a _______!” Pestering a parent should not increase the chances of a purchase. Ask children to contribute time in extra household chores to help make up the difference between a reasonable shoe price and the shoes they want. Or explain why a purchase doesn’t fit in with the value system of the family. If you have to choose between setting aside money for college or purchasing an iPod, then you are being presented with a “teachable moment” regarding financial decisions.

On a family camping trip, our cousin Steve opened a book and began reading by the firelight. Our ages spanned decades, but all were caught up in his voice, the smell of the wood and the night sky. We had all that we wanted. “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps 37:4)