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Still Hungry

Ty Bryant

How do we help materialistic kids who are full of the things of this world…still hunger for the things of God?

As a child of the '70s, I was privileged to grow up around some of the best toys ever: Lincoln Logs, Weebles, Sit 'N Spin, and the most awesome of all -- Stretch Armstrong! The majority of the kids in the 21st century have no idea what those wonderful gadgets of yesteryear are. I remember for my mom to even consider getting me a Stretch Armstrong I had to make straight A's! I had to work for it and then understand the sacrifice in obtaining that goal. She wanted me to understand that I couldn't just have whatever I wanted at my beck and call, and she wanted me to be thankful when I did receive a gift from her.

Today it's computer games, cell phones, and participation in community sports teams -- some of which have annual dues costing almost more than what one semester of college room and board cost me in the early '90s. This is the age of what you want is what you'll get, and materialism can rob children of the things that really matter. How do we help materialistic kids who are full of things still hunger for the things of God?

High Cost of Materialism

I minister within a community where millionaires are a dime a dozen, and the average household income within a two-mile radius of our church is $250,000-plus. Most of the kids in our area are just handed new stuff at will. If they want it, they have it. Birthdays and Christmas come every day or every week for some of these kids.

I absolutely love my church, and even after being on staff for almost 10 years, I still can't imagine being anywhere else. I'm blessed to minister alongside some of the most spiritually mature and well-balanced parents around. However, all that being true, our church is located in the heart of one of the wealthiest areas in the United States, and with that comes the blessings and curses of sharing Christ and his truths with those who are ultrawealthy. I have a first-row seat in the arena of watching well-meaning parents damage their children's spiritual formation without even realizing it. I have elementary-age children coming to church with iPods, cell phones, the latest in handheld video games, and jeans that cost enough to cover my monthly car payment.

But materialism isn't just a thing for the ultrawealthy. Kids in every social class are at risk of defining themselves by what they own, what they wear, and what their friends own and wear. Our culture's materialism insidiously distracts from what kids really need. And we as messengers of the hope of Christ can feed kids' real needs if we understand them.

• Kids Need to Connect. Materialism takes a heavy toll on a family's well-being because kids want relationships more than things. According to an article by Ted Villaire on pta.org, kids become lonely, depressed, and angry when parents give them things instead of attention. The result is broken relationships and longing.

Feed the Need: To help families connect, encourage them to focus on time rather than on things. Give them opportunities at your church to be together -- simple, silly fun is better than a staged show. Provide opportunities for them to play and talk together. Challenge families to have fun nights at home -- Board Game Night, Video Night, Take a Hike Night. Give parents the reason -- kids long for time with them more than anything else.

• Kids Need Satisfaction. "The problem with being materialistic," according to Kristin Brooke Beck on kristensguide.com, "is that it's only a temporary high. You get stuff, you feel good, then the novelty wears off, and you're forced to buy more stuff to get happy again." It's a very unhappy cycle that, truthfully, never satisfies.

Feed the Need: Stop the voracious "gimme" machine by helping kids understand what truly satisfies. Lead them through exercises that help them determine what matters most in life -- loving people and God. Help them see how this is truly the eternal treas-ure their hearts and souls long for.

• Kids Need to Matter. The risk for kids who live in the what you want is what you'll get zone is that they define themselves by what they have -- not by who they are. This leads to self-centeredness and selfishness. In fact, some experts say that children who grow up with extreme materialism will develop unhealthy self-love (narcissism) and a sense that they have a right to be served and given to (entitlement).

Feed the Need: Other than curbing parents' giving to children (which is a decision children's ministers cannot control), the best cure for narcissism and a sense of entitlement is to develop a heart of gratitude in children. Gratitude also helps kids get their eyes off themselves so they see others' needs. An online survey conducted by Harris Interactive reveals that children and teenagers ages 8 to 18 are more generous when they're grateful for their belongings. According to the study, "Those youth who reported appreciation for loved ones and a desire to help them also were most likely to express generosity toward strangers and those less fortunate," the study says.

• Kids Need to Stand Out. Kids want to be special. They want to be popular. They want to be looked up to. Often, when self-esteem declines in early adolescence, kids turn to gadgets and brand-name clothing to define themselves. From the Harris Interactive study mentioned above, the study's authors, Lan Nguyen Chaplin and Deborah Roedder John, say that a drop in self-esteem as children age "mirrors patterns in materialism."

Feed the Need: "Simple actions to raise self-esteem among young consumers can have a dramatic impact on expressions of materialism," according to Chaplin and John. "By priming high self-esteem, we reversed the large drop in self-esteem experienced by early adolescents, thereby reducing the steep rise in materialism among this group."

Try this, though. Instead of feeding children's egos (which can lead to self-centeredness), strive to give them a Christ-centered self-esteem. Kids need to know who they are in Christ; that's unchanging and eternal.

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