The Gift of Not Giving: What Kids REALLY Want for Christmas

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but the Christmas aisles have been stocked for weeks already. Commercials for Black Friday “doorbusters” are rampant, and there is even controversy about some stores beginning their sales on Thanksgiving Day this year.

The holiday materialism debate is not new: on one side, many families have incorporated Black Friday into their family gatherings. On the other side, many families join with Charlie Brown, who in 1965 first groaned about “Christmas going commercial”.

Don’t get us wrong — Christmas gifts can be a fun way to show love and appreciation for family and friends; in fact, one of the five “love languages” is gift-giving! But we need to be careful: if we feed into the messages of the marketers and give our kids everything they want for Christmas, gifts can become a detriment.

“The Price of Privilege”

Christmas presentIn her recent book, psychologist Dr. Madeline Levine shares her research about the detrimental effects material abundance can have on children, especially teens:

“[Parents] tend to shower their children with material goods, hoping to buy compliance with parents’ goals as well as divert attention away from their children’s unhappiness.”

However ,“…past age eleven or twelve, increases in material wealth do not translate into advantages in emotional health; on the contrary, they can translate into significant disadvantages”, such as a rate of depression three times the national average.

“The kids I see,” writes Levine, “have been given all kinds of material advantages, yet feel that they have nothing genuine to anchor their lives to. They lack spontaneity, creativity, enthusiasm, and, most disturbingly, the capacity for pleasure.”

In other words, these children face a dearth of meaningful connection and values, which makes them feel empty inside. Parents try to fill their children’s lives by giving them everything they want, but this just breeds more emptiness because fulfillment doesn’t come from things.

What Kids REALLY Want for Christmas

So what do kids really want?

“Study after study shows that teens want more, not less, time with their parents, yet parents regularly overestimate the amount of time they spend with their teenagers,” writes Levine.

Give your kids what they really want: YOU!

Another study showed that over half of teens wish they could honestly discuss “Religious matters” with their parents.

Your kids don’t want more flashy stuff for Christmas — they want YOU! They need YOU!

Dr. Bill Doherty, Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Minnesota, has identified family time as a key factor for kids’ well being: “Research shows that the most important thing a child can do to assure long-term well being is eat meals with his or her family. The more meals together, the better!”

This holiday season, think about what values your family traditions and gift-giving practices communicate to your child. Is the focus on the gifts and on getting fulfillment from the next, best, and shiniest new toy? Or is the focus on using this time to connect more deeply as a family, deepening relationships to each other and to Christ?

Having a vision that fits our values when we celebrate Christmas could be the most valuable gift of all.

A note from Jim Jackson: Perhaps you’ll join Lynne and me in the movement within our own home to not buy and present gifts to each other this Christmas. We are instead using our Christmas budget to support ministry to those without means as we consider the teaching in 1 John 3:17-18: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

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