Don't saturate the child with excessive materialism
Despite the hardships of the Great Depression, at least one question was then easier to answer than it is today; how can I say "no" to my child's materialistic desires? It was very simple for parents to tell their children that they couldn't afford to buy them everything they wanted; dad could barely keep bread on the table. But in the opulent times, the parental task becomes more difficult. It takes considerably more courage to say, "No, I won't buy you Baby-Blow-Her-Nose," than it did to say, "I'm sorry, but you know we can't afford to buy that doll." The child's lust for expensive toys is carefully generated through millions of dollars spent on TV advertising by toy manufacturers. The commercials are skillfully made so that the toys look like full-sized copies of their real counterparts: jet airplanes, robot monsters, and automatic rifles. The little buyer sits openmouthed in utter fascination. Five minuteg later he begins a campaign that will eventually cost his dad $14.95 plus batteries and tax. The trouble is, Dad can afford to buy the new item, if not with cash, at least with his magic credit card. And when three other children on the block get the coveted toys, Mom and Dad begin to feel the pressure, and even the guilt. They feel selfish because they have indulged themselves for similar luxuries. Suppose the parents are courageous enough to resist the child's urging; the child is not blocked — grandparents are notoriously easy to "con." Even if the child is unsuccessful in getting his parents or grandparents to buy what he wants, there is an annual, foolproof resource: Santa Claus! When junior asks Santa to bring him something, his parents are in an inescapable trap. What can they say, "Santa can't afford it!"? Is Santa going to forget and disappoint him? No, the toy will be on Santa's sleigh.
Some would ask, "And why not? Why shouldn't we let our children enjoy the fruits of our good times?" Certainly I would not deny the child a reasonable quantity of the things he craves. But many American children are inundated with excesses that work toward their detriment. It has been said that prosperity offers a greater test of character than does adversity, and I'm inclined to agree. There are few conditions that inhibit a sense of appreciation more than for a child to feel he is entitled to whatever he wants, whenever he wants it. It is enlightening to watch as a child tears open stacks of presents at his birthday party or perhaps at Christmas time. One after another, the expensive contents are tossed aside with little more than a glance. The child's mother is made uneasy by this lack of enthusiasm and appreciation, so she says,
"Oh, Marvin! Look what it is! It's a a little tape recorder! What do you say to Grandmother? Give Grandmother a big hug. Did you hear me, Marvin? Go give Grams a big hug and kiss."
Marvin may or may not choose to make the proper noises to Grandmother. His lack of exuberance results from the fact that prizes which are won cheaply are of little value, regardless of the cost to the original purchaser.
There is another reason that the child should be denied some of the things he thinks he wants. Although it sounds paradoxical, you actually cheat him of pleasure when you give him too much. A classic example of this saturation principle is evident in my household each year during the Thanksgiving season. Our family is blessed with several of year they do their "thing". The traditional Thanksgiving dinner consists of turkey, dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, hot rolls, two kinds of salads, and six or eight other dishes. Our behavior at this table is disgraceful, but wonderful. Everyone eats until he is uncomfortable, not saving room for dessert. Then the apple pie, pound cake, and fresh ambrosia are brought to the table. It just doesn't seem possible that we could eat another bite, yet somehow we do. Finally, taut family members begin to stagger away from their plates, looking for a place to fall. Later, about three o'clock in the afternoon, the internal pressure begins to subside, and someone passes the candy around. As the usual time for the evening meal arrives, no one is hungry, yet we've come to expect three meals a day. Turkey and roll sandwiches are constructed and consumed, followed by another helping of pie. By this time, everyone is a bit blunk-eyed, absent-mindedly eating what they neither want nor enjoy. This ridiculous ritual continues for two or three days, until the thought of food becomes rather disgusting. Whereas eating ordinarily offers one of life's greatest pleasures, it loses its thrill when the appetite for food is satiated.
Pleasure occurs when an intense need is satisfied. If there is no need, there is no pleasure. A glass of water is worth more than gold to a man dying of thirst. The analogy to children should be obvious. If you never allow a child to want something, he never enjoys the pleasure of receiving it. If you buy him a tricycle before he can walk, and a bicycle before he can ride, and a car before he can drive, and a diamond ring before he knows the value of money, he accepts these gifts with little pleasure and less appreciation. How unfortunate that such a child never had the chance to long for something, dreaming about it at night and plotting for it by day. He might have even gotten desperate enough to work for it. The same possession that brought a yawn could have been a trophy and a treasure. I suggest that you allow your child the thrill of temporary deprivation; it's more fun and much less expensive.
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