Kids want stuff. Fact of life. They want new stuff that they see on TV or YouTube or at their friend’s house, and they ask for things.
Wanting stuff is not the best thing for us, though. Kids (and adults) who get too caught up in wanting stuff are less happy than who don’t. Wanting more stuff tends to lead to bad spending decisions, bad savings habits, and bad priorities. It also leads makes most people dissatisfied with what they do have.
Materialism is a problem, and I’d just as soon my daughter escape into adulthood without picking up a bunch of materialistic habits.
As a parent, I feel it’s my job to protect my kid against materialism.
Barbie Ads and Materialism
I was skimming the internet yesterday, and saw a headline that caught my attention.
I have a little Barbie-lover, so I was interested in what the image problem was. I knew that Mattel had made new Barbie dolls that moved away from her time-tested unrealistic image. They added Barbies of different shapes and skin tones, so that little girls would find Barbies that looked just a little more like them.
But what was this other problem?
Evidently, after years of pushing Barbie cars, fashions, and the inimitable Dream House, Mattel realized that Barbie seems just a wee bit more materialistic than modern mamas would like.
Mattel realized that to a lot of parents, materialism is not an attractive attribute. The millennial mom in particular sees the need to protect her kid against materialism.
Instead of showing Barbie interacting with her stuff, Mattel will run new ads showing girls interacting with Barbie. Barbie at school, Barbie in the workplace, Chef Barbie, President Barbie, Astronaut Barbie.
Parents of Barbie-loving kids (or potential Barbie-loving kids) are supposed to be reassured that Barbie is about a lot more than hitting the mall and driving around in a shiny convertible.
Okay, an ad campaign doesn’t change anything. Barbie is still Barbie, even if she can be a computer programmer instead of just hang out with Ken in the Malibu Beach House. But I thought it was interesting that Mattel was worried about Barbie’s shopaholic fashionista image enough to try to change it.
Dang, even Mattel, which wants to sell my kid more stuff, realizes that I want to protect my kid against materialism.
5 Ways to Protect your Kid against Materialism
So how do you protect your Barbie-loving kid (or Spiderman-loving kid, or XBox-loving kid, or clothes-loving kid) against the tide of materialism?
It’s not easy. As a matter of fact, protecting your kid against materialism might be a lifelong commitment.
Protecting your kid against materialism starts with being less materialistic yourself.
Be a Good Example
If you want your kids to value relationships and experiences over stuff, you need to be careful about the stuff you bring in to your life.
Children learn from your example. If you are concentrating on what you have and don’t have, your children will copy that behavior. If you show that your happiness is not dependent on having more or newer things, your child is less likely to pick up consumerist values.
Remember to be grateful for what you have and show that gratitude. Enjoy the little things in life, and work at letting go of your more material impulses. Hopefully, your kid will follow.
Create Non-Materialist Memories
What do you remember most and best about childhood?
Some of my most powerful memories are watching my grandmother bake bread, “helping” my dad on his construction projects, and reading to my mom. Those birthday parties? They all run together. Sitting at the kids’ table with my cousins at Thanksgiving and Christmas? I remember that more strongly than any one toy.
Good times make stronger memories than stuff any day.
Spend time with your kids. Do things,
even especially mundane every day things, and make them fun and silly and special. Make dinner. Rake leaves, and don’t forget to jump in the leaf piles with them. Wash a car on a hot day, and squirt each other with the hose. Change the sheets and pretend to be ghosts or make a fort before you wash the old ones. HAVE FUN!
(and yes, I mean to shout. Fun is important in making memories.)
Give to Others
Part of our daughter’s allowance goes to a giveaway jar. She decides what charitable cause she’ll give to, but every week part of her allowance must go in the jar.
Because she participated in a charity event at school, she tells me this year that her money will go to the American Heart Association.
Last year, it was her school’s Backpack Buddies program to help food insecure classmates.
We’ve also done a food packing event for Stop Hunger Now. All three of us spent a couple of hours packing rice, soy, and dehydrated vegetables to go somewhere people were hungry. It was a great way to bring up the reality that some people live with a lot less than we do.
Kids can help others in so many ways. Giving your child a chance to donate money or time to help others goes a long way toward helping them become less materialistic. It helps them learn gratitude for what they have and responsibility for others. They learn to spend less time thinking about themselves and their wants, and that will help free them of the need for more stuff.
Delay Gratification and Encourage Saving
Our daughter has saved her allowance for some awesome toys, and we’re really proud that she has done so. She’s learned that “if you save more and you save longer, you can get cooler stuff.” For right now, that means toys. I hope that in the future, it will mean that she learns that she can save for a down payment on a house, or save for a car, or save for retirement.
Does that mean she never buys a cheap toy at Dollar Tree? No, but then I buy the occasional latte or e-book. Everyone spends on stuff, but Little Bit is also building her savings muscle.
Some of Little Bit’s money each week also has to go to her savings account. A couple of times per year we take her savings jar to the credit union and dump it in the coin counter. Then we deposit the proceeds in her bank account. Little Bit knows that each week she’s contributing a little money that someday will go to pay for her college education. She is an active participant in her future.
Be Proud of the Stuff Your Kid Makes
Kids naturally like to make stuff. They are really proud of it, too.
Be proud too.
My daughter loves to dress her Barbies in new clothes, so she makes them. Little Bit carefully crafts new dresses from tissue paper, construction paper, yarn, bits of cloth, and even PlayDoh.
Maybe she’ll be a designer some day. Or maybe not. In the meantime, she’s reusing the bits and pieces of various things she finds around the house to have fun and to create.
It’s important that you nurture that creative instinct. If you learn to make stuff (like my daughter makes doll clothes) you learn you don’t really need to buy as much. You learn to make do with what you have. Plus, your kid has fun and builds new memories. Yes, the memories are a little bit about stuff, but they are more about the act of making something and the pride of creation.
Do Your Part
We know that we can’t always protect our kids against all of the dangers they face.
Kids will be exposed to materialism in the media and from their peers. They’ll get the message that stuff is cool, whether we want them to or not. They will go into the world and make their own choices and live their own lives. And yes, they’ll buy their own stuff.
The best we can do is give them a little inoculation against the viral message of materialism with the lessons we teach them at home.
So protect your kid against materialism. Protect their future happiness and their future financial stability by teaching them that stuff won’t make them happy. Relationships, self confidence, fun experiences and giving to others will.
What’s your best tip for teaching kids to value stuff less? What’s your best tip for escaping your own materialist tendencies?