On the way home from school yesterday, my son asked for an Xbox. I told him no. My son burst into tears and told me we never buy him anything.
I was at a loss for words. First of all, an Xbox is not a little toy from the dollar bin at Target. It’s a major expense. Secondly, my son lives in a home bursting with toys. He gets spoiled every Christmas and birthday by well-meaning relatives. His outburst angered me. Recently, he’s been complaining a lot. When we do something nice for him, he always wants more. I wondered if it was our parenting, his age, or our move back to the United States that was contributing to this new, entitled behavior.
Whatever the reason, I decided it was time to make raising grateful kids a priority. After all, it’s November. As Americans prepare for Thanksgiving, it’s the perfect time to encourage gratitude.
It’s difficult to raise grateful children today. TV commercials, ads on video games, and storefront displays all send subliminal messages to our children. Buy more! You need this to be happy. Your current game isn’t nearly as exciting as this new one.
It’s hard enough for adults to resist the temptation of accumulating more and more things. Children are even more susceptible to the power of advertising.
The APA (American Psychological Association) notes that children, particularly children ages 8 and under, “lack the cognitive ability to recognize advertising’s persuasive intent.”
Children are helpless in the face of relentless advertising. We must be their moral compass when they’re young. We must model restraint and say ‘no’ often.
“Increasingly, advertisers are targeting younger and younger children in an effort to establish “brand-name preference” at as early an age as possible. This targeting occurs because advertising is a $250 billion/year industry with 900,000 brands to sell, and children and adolescents are attractive consumers: teenagers spend $155 billion/year, children younger than 12 years spend another $25 billion, and both groups influence perhaps another $200 billion of their parents’ spending per year.”
In the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, authors of the article, Children, Adolescents, and Advertising, note that several European countries forbid or severely curtail advertising to children. In the U.S., selling to children is normal.
My family and I recently moved back to California after living in the UK for five years. My eldest son’s sense of entitlement seems to have grown after starting school here. It may be his age (my youngest isn’t showing this behavior). It may also be American culture and its allowance of ads targeting children.
Whatever it is, I don’t like it. So, I’ve implemented a few strategies at home to combat this entitled behavior and help my sons become more grateful kids.
1. Model Grateful Behavior
Each night at the dinner table, we share something we are grateful for. This shifts the focus from the things we might want to the things we already have. This practice helps my husband and me appreciate our blessings as well.
In the book, Raising Kids in an Entitled World, Kristen Welch writes “as uncomfortable as it sounds, parents who want less entitled kids have to be less entitled themselves, and parents who want to raise more grateful kids need to start by living more grateful lives.
2. Teach Children to be Financially Literate
I’ve started including my eldest son in some of our financial decisions. I want to show him how we decide which items to purchase and which ones are unnecessary. I’m sharing our household budget and showing him how much money we pay out for our bills each month.
By sharing our finances with my son, I’m showing him that we can’t simply buy him toys whenever he wants them. First, we must have money in our rainy day savings account in case we have car troubles or extra medical bills. Next, we must make sure we have enough to cover the essential like groceries and the electricity bill.
Teaching children to be financially literate is an important part of parenting and one that will help them become fiscally responsible adults in the future.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say ‘No’
Last week my son wanted money for the school book fair. After shelling out money for pictures, yearbooks, fundraisers, and school supplies, I decided books from the book fair were non-essential items. It was time to say ‘no’. By constantly spending money I wasn’t setting a good example for my sons. How will they learn to save if they see me spending all the time?
Since my son earns an allowance, I gave him the option to buy the books himself. I felt like a mean mom. He cried like his heart was breaking, but eventually got over it and decided to save his money instead. When we went to the library we discovered the new Dogman book he wanted. My son was still able to read the book and he learned an important financial lesson.
4. Give Children Chores
Chores help teach responsibility. Children need to learn that everyone in the family must contribute.
In The Me, Me, Me Epidemic Amy McCready writes, “Don’t let your home become a child-centered home, kids expect more of us and less of themselves.”
If we want to raise grateful kids we must teach them to be independent. As they grow up, we gradually give them more responsibility. My son has started packing his lunch this year. As he gets older, I will give him more and more chores. He now appreciates the work that goes into meal preparation and the importance of planning.
Even though our children are surrounded by a culture of wanting more and never being satisfied, there are many things we can do to combat this culture of entitlement. It starts with instilling gratitude. This month, try shifting the focus. Model grateful behavior, involve children in financial decisions, say ‘no’ to excess and unnecessary purchases, and give children chores. I will be sharing other ways to encourage gratitude at home, but these strategies provide a good foundation for raising grateful kids.
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