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
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
• 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
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.