As parents we always want to give our children the best. However, sometimes our children need to learn some appreciation. I recall a screaming child in the checkout line wanting another widget of the day. I frowned with an internal vowing of, “I’ll never have children like that” (before I had children of course). We all recognize and love to loathe the unappreciative child. A recent Harry Potter film builds such a loathing for the character Dudley Dursley. Upon his birthday he asks, “How many are there?” He is referring to his presents and he greets his parents with, “Thirty-six, but last year I had thirty-seven” and “I don’t care how big they are.” So, as parents how can we raise thankful children in a materialistic society? Unfortunately, the answers aren’t simple, but here are thoughts from the father of two young, hopefully not so, “material” girls.
1. Teach Them to Be Aware – Be aware that you and your children are being bombarded with hundreds to thousands of advertising messages per day depending upon what you consider advertising. These messages are telling you and your children, “You want it, you need it, and you deserve it.” Take it from someone who has formally studied marketing for years! You’d be amazed at the dollars and research poured into motivating you and your malleable children’s minds into making certain decisions.
2. Define Needs in Advance – This can be a difficult exercise, but you should take some time and define with your children wants versus needs in advance. By defining needs in advance, it keeps them from constantly transforming into new wants and needs. For example, if you don’t have a way to work you may feel you need a car. You get the car and realize it’s hot without air conditioning. Now you want a car with air conditioning. You get the car with air conditioning and now you want a car with a radio. You get the car with the radio and . . . the point is you and your children should define needs versus wants now because every satisfied want becomes a need, leaving an empty place for a new want, and a dependence on a new standard of living!
3. Teach Them Not to Compare – I read a recent study that found most people would prefer to make less money so long as it was more than everyone else. It’s keeping up with the Joneses. As Americans today we live in the most prosperous time of the most prosperous country ever, yet UNICEF concludes that more than half the children in the developing world are severely deprived of one or more of the necessities essential to childhood such as clean water and shelter. There is always someone more fortunate. Teach your children to be thankful for what they have.
4. Teach the Value of a Dollar – Children should do their share at home and understand what it takes to earn a dollar. One could write a book on this topic alone, and though opinions vary regarding the specifics, valuing of money is best learned by earning money.
5. Teach Them to Give – The experience of giving can be one of the most enlightening in a child’s financial education. Money given by children should be set aside from earning or allowance in advance, not a last minute handout you give them to “put in a pot.” What you want to teach them is the discipline and enjoyment of giving not just the act. Show children how to give of their time as well.
6. Lead by Example.