The average Americans spends more than $1,000 during the holiday season, according to Buy Nothing Christmas, an organization that advocates simplifying the holiday.
Despite the fact that the United States represents 4.5 percent of the world’s population, we consume 40 percent of its toys. The typical first-grader is able to recognize 200 brands and acquires 70 new toys a year.
Those toys may be harming your child.
In “Born to Buy,” one of the most comprehensive analyses of consumerism in kids, professor Juliet Schor explains that the more kids buy into the commercial culture, the more likely they are to suffer from depression, anxiety, headaches, stomachaches and boredom. Adolescents with more materialistic values are more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as smoking, drinking and illegal drug use. They are more likely to suffer personality disorders like narcissism, separation anxiety, paranoia and attention deficit disorder.
Lavishing our children with gifts deprives them of something far more valuable: shared time and experiences. In our overscheduled lives, we are often too busy or tired to do a family art project, play a board game or bake cookies. I can’t remember ever roasting chestnuts on an open fire, but it’s always sounded like a lovely idea. Most families say that what they need more of is time – not stuff. And getting in and out of shopping centers steals your time.
Overabundance of holiday gifts offers a short-term payoff, but the long-term consequences are high. Mary Bellis Waller, author of “Crack-Affected Children,” likens materialism to cocaine addiction. Buying stuff stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, which creates a temporary high, but ultimately leaves one unsatisfied. The bottom line is that substance abuse is substance abuse.
Not surprisingly kids who are overindulged materially tend to have the worst relationships with their parents. Money can’t buy love, but it sure seems to finance some serious familial discord.
I don’t advocate for doing away with all holiday gift-giving. A few thoughtful gifts can add a lot to a child’s holiday, but we need to redefine giving by shopping less and doing more. Our kids will remember the bread-baking, the snowball fights and the family time long after they’ve tired of this year’s must-have gadget.
Presents are part of the holiday experience, but they have come to eclipse the greater meaning of the season. Whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or winter solstice, the season offers us all a period to reflect on what makes life beautiful and meaningful.
And those usually don’t come in wrapping paper.
Jennifer Coburn is an award-winning journalist and author of four novels (www.jennifercoburn.com). She also contributed to a holiday anthology entitled “This Christmas.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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