Updated on 08.28.14

Children, Christmas, and the Materialism Battle

Trent Hamm

Seth Godin pointed me towards this video of children opening Nintendo Wiis on Christmas morning (it’s well worth watching at least the first minute or so of the video):

While I was watching it, I was caught up with two strongly conflicting feelings.

At first, I felt happy for the children. Overjoyed children, on some level, always make me feel happy. I’m reminded of the unabashed joy of some of my own childhood moments, plus I can’t help but consider the happiness of my own children, too.

Yet, as I kept watching, the video began to unnerve me. These children were expressing an enormous amount of joy due to receiving an expensive consumer electronics item. I couldn’t help but think of Christmas 1987, where I reacted in a very similar way to receiving a Nintendo Entertainment System. It is still the single strongest memory I have of a childhood Christmas – and I remember the near ecstasy I had when my parents brought that item out of the bedroom.

What brought on such huge anticipation and excitement in a consumer product? For me, there were a lot of factors – friends at school were a big part of it, as were television commercials and, to a degree, my parents played along as well. They would encourage me to mark things that I wanted out of toy catalogues, for example, and I can remember drawing many, many circles around the Nintendo that year.

The end result? I spent more than a month in a fever pitch of anticipation about Christmas, hoping I would receive a particular item, and I was in an intensely excited frenzy when Christmas morning finally arrived. It was an emotional crescendo – and, frankly, it was the exact way that Nintendo’s marketing department hoped it would end, with a huge rush of happiness associated with that consumer product. Is it really a coincidence that our home currently has several Nintendo products in it? Likely not.

When I see those children in fits of ecstasy, I see children beginning to assign happiness to consumer goods – and that worries me. For most of my early adulthood, I did that very same thing – I convinced myself that my happiness was directly connected to what material items I had. I’d buy things and barely use them because of the rush of owning that product, and I’d quickly buy into marketing plans of all kinds. In some ways, I still do.

So this leaves the question: how can I tie together these scenes of Christmas delight with my own conflicting desires as a parent? Obviously, I want to create happy childhood memories for my kids and I also want them to actually have at least some of the things that they desire, but I also don’t want to create the type of emotional association with things that these kids are developing – and that I once developed.

My Children and Christmas

I won’t encourage my children to ask for anything for gifts.

This discourages obsessing over Christmas lists and the like. Instead, I’ll just focus on paying attention to them – what are their interests? What are they passionate about? This requires more footwork, but it also stymies a focus on consumerism.

I’ll work diligently to create positive memories with my child that aren’t associated with consumer products.

Instead of leaving my children to their own ends – or spending time with them focused on consumerism – I’ll try hard to create happy memories that don’t revolve around things. I’m already actively doing this with my children – in just the last few days with my son, for example, he’s helped me make supper, we’ve played catch, we’ve wrestled in the living room until he’s laughing his head off, and we’ve also read a pile of library books together.

I want to reinforce in my children the power of giving over receiving.

My childhood was often centered around the stuff I could get – there was very little focus on giving to others. We did not write thank you notes for gifts, nor was I ever really encouraged to think about giving to others, either in terms of charities or to loved ones for gift-giving occasions. I feel that this attitude contributed greatly to my financial problems in early adulthood, and I fully intend to work to implant different values in my own children.

I want my children to have a thoroughly happy and fulfilling childhood, but every time I watch that video, I feel that long term happiness is somehow being traded for the short term. That’s not a trade I want to make with my own children – there is a different way, and I intend to find it.

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  1. Marsha says:

    I found this post pretty amazing, Trent – look at how far you have come!

    Clearly battling consumerism and materialism is a daily battle – not one that is ever won and finished.

  2. TMS says:

    I must say that I always enjoy reading you posts and most of the time I agree nearly 100% with your beliefs. This one I agree with a little less than normal though.

    I will start by saying that I definitely agree with your points about children relating happiness to consumer products and to encourage giving instead of receiving. I have a 4-year-old nephew that received 20+ gifts at our family gathering this year and after opening the last one he realized there weren’t anymore so he broke down in tears.

    Unfortunately, the thought that I kept having throughout most of the post was “he is making his own kids pay for his past financial mistakes”. I whole-heartedly doubt that this is your reasoning behind this whole anti-materialism happiness change you are planning, but that’s how I perceived it.

    This perception may have been because of a story that I can relate to… My aunt and uncle maxed out credit card after credit card as a young couple and soon forced to bankruptcy; shortly after they had two boys. One christmas the oldest son, at age 10, asked for a table saw. That was no small gift but they saved their money and got it for him. A few years later the youngest son, at age 8, asked for a Nintendo and received it. Today, the oldest son owns his own framing & construction company and the youngest is a PC game developer. Is it a direct correlation that happens 100% of the time? No, but I like to think that it helped. As for me, I asked for erector sets and Legos as a child and now I am an engineer.

    Finally, as a general public statement, I am not saying to get your children everything they always want, but instead use the post-christmas let-downs to teach lessons about prioritizing, money management, etc.

  3. Connie says:

    That video was incredibly disturbing.

  4. mlizzy says:

    Great article! Wonderful site! Possibly some of your readers would like this post on Santa Claus:


  5. liv says:

    I see your point, but parents are never required to buy those things for their kids no matter how bad they wanted it. It sounds like you’re blaming consumerism for their wants, but the only way to enable more of it is to actually get it for them. You don’t have to discourage them thinking about things they want, you just don’t have to fulfill all the needs on the list.

    Also, it seems like you’re focusing on just the expensive things…but remember, they are all still things. The positive memory reading books, books are still things. They are just not as expensive of a thing as a Wii. It helps to clarify that.

    A Wii is expensive gift for kids, but really, if you look at things like Wii Sports, and Wii Fit, and all the other stuff they’re making for it, you’ll see it can also be like an exercise/entertainment investment.

    The giving-over-receiving point, I totally agree. Encourage that. Not only that, you could start a tradition so that they know that even though they’ll get something, they should always want to give something. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or tell your kids to pick a charity and donate to it each year (if it’s your kids, maybe they’ll want to give to toy drives or other kids who can’t get toys…seems easily relatable).

  6. A. Dawn says:

    Giving over receiving is somewhat a difficult concept to teach kids. We live in a society full of consumerism and materialism, and those TV ads (and media) are even making it harder to show kids the joy of giving.
    A Dawn Journal

  7. CanadianKate says:

    Teaching want vs need is something I worked hard on with my kids (now grown.) Some kids get it, some don’t (I have one of each!)

    I also couldn’t make it through to the end of the video but I was glad to see that many families made it a shared gift among 2 or more children. That was how we handled the N64 we bought the kids. And the games were bought by the kids themselves (aside from the few that came with the unit.) Their first Nintendo (I think it was SuperNintendo) they bought together at a garage sale (from someone who had a N64). It was only after I saw how well they used it and shared it, that Santa ‘upgraded’ them.

  8. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    My wife’s family goes absolutely nuts giving xmas gifts and it has always bothered me. They easily spend 10k on gifts every xmas. I think it’s a tremendous waste. Their youngest son is a great kid, but extremely gift oriented. He’s intelligent, but doesn’t understand the value of money at all. Plus, he doesn’t no what it’s like to wait from something you want. I’ve found that if you wait long enough, the things that are important to you generally change.

  9. Andrea says:

    Many of the commenters make valid points. I still share those mixed feelings–glad the kids are happy, but disturbed by the cause and the over-the-top glee and hyper excitement. How many of the kids eventually said “Thank you?”

  10. Brian says:

    Giving kids gifts that they want is fine as long as you explain to them how special the occasion is and the importance of other things. I don’t find it disturbing that kids get excited for getting a Wii. I’m almost 29 as was really excited when I bought myself an Xbox 360. Why deprive kids of things they want? In many cases they’re not old enough to know any better.

  11. Anastasia says:

    It seems to me the key is balance. I love playing Wii games, and I don’t want to not have a lot of fun with them because they are an expense. I don’t want to feel bad about buying a new game when I choose to spend my extra cash that way. In fact, I want that shopping experience to be as fun as possible!

    The thing to watch out for is when shopping and buying things becomes the only fun. I don’t buy games if I think the buying experience will be more enjoyable than the playing experience.

  12. Winnie C says:

    The part that I found most disturbing was the person in the background telling the kid how people were killing themselves to get a Wii. No matter how you feel about the kids reactions that comment says more then the whole video imho.

  13. Stephen says:

    “This is the best recession ever daddy – Thank you for the Wii.”

    They should create a parody of this showing the parents struggling to make the mortgage payment in February.

  14. leslie says:

    So, the thing I remember is the second kid in the video that is excited about the Wii but still gets up and balls up the wrapping paper and throws it away instead of leaving ripped up wrapping paper all over the floor. THAT is what I want to teach my kids.

  15. Erin G says:

    I agree with you on the wishlist thing, Trent. I don’t like giving them to other people (it’s like ordering a gift for yourself – awkward!), and I definitely don’t shop off of them. If spouses or friends give me gift ideas, that’s one thing… but I am just not a huge fan of wishlists. I’d rather have something that might not be the exact ‘right’ thing, but is something the giver thought of. Likewise, shopping from someone else’s list takes all MY fun away if I don’t have the satisfaction of hunting for a finding something I want them to have, and then the pleasure of seeing them surprised when they unwrap it.

    One exeption to this mentality might be writing letters to santa, which our son (now 18 months) will probably do… haven’t discussed it with the hubby yet, we have a few years to figure out how we want to handle it. :)

  16. Anna says:

    I think I said this before in another thread, but it’s worth repeating here. In our culture, adults seem to spend a lot of time in December asking other people’s kids “What do you think Santa Claus will bring you?” and then, afterwards, asking “What did you get for Christmas?” thus putting all the emphasis on getting. If some of us here begin to change that conversation, maybe—just maybe—we will manage to have a better influence on the kids we meet.

    As for the child who balled up the wrapping and threw it away—that’s fine as far as it goes, but I do wish his parents had taught him, at least by example, to fold up the wrapping for use again next year. It’s amazing how much money can be saved on gift wrap by some careful recycling (not to mention all those trees).

  17. Dave says:

    My coworker has taken his children to hand out gifts to orphans for a few Christmases. When you see other people who really have nothing, it puts everything into perspective. I 100% plan on doing this with my children.

  18. Trent, I thought you had said previously that the things you remembered most about Christmas as a child were times with family, etc.

    I remember feeling sad when I read that because my biggest memory of Christmas was the year I got the original Nintendo.

    Apparently it was for our generation what the Wii is to this generation. I’m sure I had that same look on my face that these kids do in the videos.

    My other biggest gift rememberance was my first computer in 1990 for my birthday.

    I’m glad I’m aware of my consumerist tendencies now; with a budget in hand, I spend far less than I would otherwise, and am happily investing the difference. I’m on track to invest more than 50% of my after-tax income for 2009. While my parents did encourage me to invest, I wish they would have put even more emphasis on it vs. consuming. I could have been much farther ahead of the game than I am right now.


  19. Carrie says:

    One suggestion I read somewhere is asking your kids what they want to GIVE for Christmas instead of what they want to get. Helps with the refocus.

    Also turn off the t.v.! Kids are screaming for Mom/Dad to come watch this toy commercial starting in October – they won’t want it if they don’t know about it.

  20. Saver Queen says:

    I strongly believe that building relationships by spending time with children create more valuable memories than anything else. As a parent, I’m sure it’s always tempting to make your child happy by giving them some consumer gifts, but I’m so happy that my dad balanced the consumer influence in my life growing up, by spending time with me doing activities – ice skating, hiking, biking, going to museums and doing crafts, even just playing baseball in the back yard. As a child, nothing made me happier than when one of my parents spent time with me.

  21. oneofnine says:

    I agree with most of these posts. I have a 3 year old and a 3 month old and I don’t really know how I am going to handle it when my son starts asking for the cool, expensive toys. Probably we would get one for our children to share (like many of the kids in this video) and also b/c my hubby remembers being enamored by the Atari video games when he was younger!

    However, having been raised in a family where we received socks and underwear under the Christmas tree, I think it is essential to balance the receiving with giving. I will take my kids to the homeless shelter and have them bring gifts to the children in hospitals, and we will not pile on other gifts on top of a huge present like a Wii.

    I think another point to consider is how long the magic lasts when kids are contstantly receiving the objects of their desires? I work for an upper-middle class family (both parents are doctors) and the children are always desperately happy when they get what they want (bikes, scooters, Wii, iPods) but a month later that same toy is gathering dust while they obsess about the NEXT big thing they want. It’s just too much!!!

  22. KC says:

    I like your point about thank you notes. That is a great idea – manners, plus it would take some of the focus off of themselves.

    I also like other ideas of taking the focus off of themselves for the holidays. My husband, who came from a well off family, and his brothers always worked in a soup kitchen on T-giving and C-mas. I used to think that was the weirdest thing. But it really helped them to see others who are less fortunate. They also never received scads of gifts even though it would have been easily afforded.

  23. Imani says:

    I always got my sons most (not most expensive) things on their Christmas lists. It taught them that you don’t always get what you want.

    I could have gotten them everything, but it was an exercise in discipline.

    No regrets. They’ve grown to be very responsible young adults.

  24. LisaB says:

    Did you catch around 5:07 into the video where the parents say

    “you know what that means? It means that Wii-ii-ii love you”

    I think it’s associations like these that Trent and others are worried about. Love = expensive gifts.

    It’s not that expensive toys/gifts are per se, but it’s the associations we make out of them, and end up passing on to our children.

  25. Aunt Jenny says:

    I remember getting that excited about the Easy Bake Oven.

  26. ConnieBrz says:

    We homeschooled our 4 kids from K-12. When they were small, they weren’t allowed to watch TV. When Christmas came around, I’d ask what they wanted and they never, ever wanted anything. Amazing, isn’t it?

    I actually found it a bit difficult at the time, trying to come up with something. Usually after a week or two of thinking, they’d come up with something but it was never anything commercial– usually something like ‘my own pair of sewing shears’ or a new tacklebox.

    Now that they’re grown, it’s much the same although they’re always happy for the cash :)

  27. Elizabeth says:

    I too have a strong Christmas memory of receiving my first Nintendo system. It’s almost the same as yours except I snooped all over the house to see if I was getting a Nintendo for Christmas. I didn’t find it and was really irked, but lo’ and behold on Christmas Eve my father retrieved it from the depths of the garage.
    However, the only reason I did receive it for Christmas was because we had previously rented a system for a weekend from the local video store. (Remember when that was all the rage?) I was able to show my parents this was a fun activity we could enjoy as a family. And boy, my parents sure enjoyed the Tetris.

  28. Karen says:

    Right on, Trent! I’ve done the same with my kids. No gift lists or requests, but instead we looked for quality gifts that they didn’t even know they might want – and they always loved. When they were in the Santa believing years, and visited Santa at the mall, they were encouraged to thank Santa for the previous year’s gift, rather than ask for something. That really worked well, although a few Santas sure looked surprised!

    We have also tried to keep the number of gifts in moderation, and open each slowly and thoughtfully, so there’s never been a mad frenzy.

  29. Karen M says:

    Yes, the gaming consoles are usually the high-ticket Christmas items. I know my nephew really really really wanted a Nintendo DS this holiday. But, Trent, I think you are being a bit unfair here. You already have (and enjoy, from what I can gather) a Wii system. You are a gamer yourself. Therefore, your children will not lust after these items, as you already have them. There are a lot of kids who have parents that don’t use these type of electronics. I agree with the anit-consumerism thread of the post, I just think your example was slightly inappropriate, given your use of the product.

  30. Amateur says:

    I don’t know about the rest of the commentors but as a kid I had to work for those gifts through getting good grades at school and helping out with chores. The better the grades, the better the gifts. Otherwise, I could get refused for certain things I wanted but definitely didn’t need to survive with. As a kid, I thought they were being tyrants, but they were trying to push for me to work hard at school – I’m grateful they didn’t let me have stuff so easily.

  31. CJ says:

    OH MY GOD! (repeated most often during the video in response to seeing the Wii). Only a minor reference to the true meaning of celebrating Christmas —
    While I agree with many of the comments made about this video, what stands out most is that these kids were on the verge of apoplexy! The parents are providing expensive gifts (anyone else notice the pile of other unwrapped gifts quickly forsaken in favor of the Wii?) and I think that is just a continuation of the consumerism which has been building and escalating for the parents as well. Buying things when you can’t afford them is how so many end up in severe credit card debt. If the money to buy such items is available without potentially sacrificing other needs vs wants, I think it is fine for kids to get such gifts — and hopefully to share them with siblings and friends.
    If Mom and Dad are over-extended and are struggling to live paycheck to paycheck, then a more restrained Christmas is needed. It isn’t always possible to satisfy every “want” and children should be educated about responsible financial decisions as soon as they can start to comprehend the consequences of over indulgence. When I was younger, I received many “wanted” items, but never at the risk of not having all my “needs” met first (including the obligatory underwear and nightgown!) We were also encouraged to “save” our allowance to obtain those more expensive items. A tactic like that gives children a fundamental understanding of financial situations.
    Spending time with children and doing activities that are inexpensive (and often free) is truly a loving relationship. Add the “wants” only if the “needs” have been met first.
    (Anyone else get a laugh from the kid wearing an AIG t-shirt??)

  32. Jillian says:

    I wonder how much of this stems from too much pocket money/absent parent guilt money? If a kid can afford something themselves, then they’ll buy it during the year, leaving the parents with little choice but to buy something even more expensive for Christmas.

    My parents would very rarely have spent more than $40-$50 on each of us at Christmas, but we never got much pocket money as kids either, so it was still a big deal. But at the same time, we knew better than to hope for anything expensive. Gift-opening was always a surprise, and I think that’s where the element of fun was, rather than the gift itself. If you have almost no expectations, anything is cool! My mum also made us write thank you letters for birthday/Christmas presents from anyone outside the immediate family.

    My parents weren’t short of cash (as far as I know), they just didn’t like encouraging greed or entitlement. They would buy expensive stuff occasionally, but it’d just turn up out of the blue on some random day and was never given as a gift to anyone in particular. I remember my dad coming home from work one day with a new (probably second-hand actually) computer, and we spent all week fighting over whose turn it was to play Typing Tutor next (it was a while before we got any games!) I think it’s nice that for me, memories like that are totally unconnected with Christmas.

  33. M Burris says:

    My oldest son was saving $100 for his payment towards the family Wii. They were still hard to get, and I was worried about being able to find one when he had made his final payment, so I bought one as soon as it was available (about a week early).

    He saw the box, and shrugged: “It’s a Wii box, Dad. What’s actually in it?”

    He knows that I mess with his mind, and that he hadn’t saved the entire amount required. So he “knew” that it wasn’t a Wii – he hadn’t earned it, so it couldn’t possibly be a Wii! I think we taught him well.

    And in our family, big ticket items aren’t gifts – they have to be earned.

  34. What a letdown you would have had if your parents hadn’t produced the NES. When my oldest was five (1991), I found TCS http://tr.im/42ex which among many alternative views to parenting, suggested that instead of saying no to our children every chance we got, we help them get the things they want. As a result of trying this experiment, throughout the upbringing of my children Christmas was never that big of a deal, because, even though we were poor, my children got most of the things they wanted – which ironically, was never much!! Another tenet of TCS is to take your child seriously and give them the respect you would an adult. And last but not least, homeschooling helped immensely since my children were being guided by my principles not by their peers. Oh, we also never did “Santa Claus” simply because we didn’t want our children growing up and realizing we’d been lying to them all those years…

  35. This is part of the reason my husband and I don’t plan to do Santa with our kids. Encouraging kids to give Santa a big list of eeeeeverything they way and then encouraging the idea that Santa brings presents out of the blue (no one has to pay for them, obviously) doesn’t gel with our values. I don’t want to get our kids in the habit of expecting Santa will bring extra-pricey stuff, because once they know we’re Santa, they’ll still be expecting it.

  36. Kris says:

    My husband and I are approaching 40. This year, as we watched my children opening their gifts from Santa (we kept it minimal, they are 6 and 2 and there was no Wii happening here), I asked him what his best Christmas memory was. Like me, he remembered the traditions of the Christmas season (getting together with relatives, going to Church, going to look at lights, making cookies). Neither one of us could remember 1 gift that had really made an impression.

    My kids want. They want a lot. But we keep it within our means and within reason. Spending quality time as a family means so much more than another gift under the tree.

  37. Jeremy Egner says:

    The reactions of the children were a little bit shocking to me. It’s a little frightening to seem them so excited about material goods. Still, their values will not come from one holiday alone, and although this is one opportunity for them to learn about giving and receiving and gratitude, they should have many others as well.

  38. Kristin says:

    I think emphasizing the giving is really where its at…

    When I think about my childhood, the present that most stands out to me was when I secretly spent a month painting a picture of a lighthouse for my mom; she cried for like 10 minutes when she got it. I tear up just thinking about it now. I think helping your kids when their younger get excited about trying to find, or better yet, make that perfect gift for someone can really make lasting memories.

  39. LisaNewton says:

    I was just talking to a friend of mine the other day about Christmas memories.

    Growing up, Christmas was a big holiday in my house. Going to bed early, with great anticipation for the next day. My parents would put all of the gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve, so when we woke up in the morning, the tree would be filled.

    We didn’t spend too much on “stuff” during the year, so we received a lot of “needed” stuff on Christmas. For example, underwear and socks were always under the tree. Not the best gift kids want to receive, but now, receiving them is one of my strongest memories.

    The other traditional gift was a record album. Yes, I’m from that generation. There aren’t too many ways to conceal the fact that the gift is an album, so we just started saying, “Dad (he played “Santa” at my house), can I open my record now?”

    Your idea of giving over receiving is great, and an important one sometimes over looked. Part of our Christmas was a gift exchange between my sisters and brothers. We all had an allowance, which was what we used for our gifts.

    Now, remember this story takes place more than 35 years ago. At this time, my youngest sister was about 4 years old and her allowance was $.25 per week. That year for Christmas, she bought each of us, one brother and two sisters, a small notebook, costing $.25. Therefore, she spent three weeks worth of her income on Christmas. When you’re only earning $1.00 per month, spending $.75 on gifts was a lot.

    I’m sorry this is so long, but the memories are flooding in. Thank you for that…………..:)

  40. steve says:

    To me it looked like an ad. They didn’t really look like “happy children” to me. II’ve actually seen happy children before and they don’t act like that.

  41. plonkee says:

    I only watched the beginning of it, but it looked like much of the joy was because their parents had previously insisted it that a Wii was too expensive or hard to find.

  42. T says:

    I enjoyed this post – particularly how well it came down to concrete and not totally obvious steps to take in response to the ideas. Thanks.

  43. Kate says:

    It seems like it is difficult even with adult children—I hear younger people at work talk about how they got huge screen TV’s, IPOD Touches, etc. for Christmas from their parents or older people talk about what they are buying for their grown children. So there is that momentary feeling of being cheap for not doing something like that.

  44. Jordan says:

    I agree with your post. I have four siblings under 18, and I always make a point of asking them at Xmas, “what was your favourite present to give?” and then ask why. I never ask them what they got (they often volunteer this later), I focus my interest on what they gave. I hope in this way that I am making a small step towards balancing the consumerist frenzy that is Xmas!

  45. Ranga says:

    @Andrea: ‘How many of the kids eventually said “Thank you?” ‘
    Atleast one. He shouts “Santa Rocks!” !!

    1. most of them do not realise their parents’ toil behind the WEE. all they think is Santa gave it.

    2. I’m sure Nintendo’s marketing & advertising departments will be partying for every shrieking child in this video.

  46. Laura says:

    Wow, I was waiting for the oompa loompas to come waltzing in to take the blueberry girl to the juicer. Great post, point well taken. Oompiddy doo.

  47. Isela says:

    If found really scary the video.
    USA has two big problems: huge debt and huge persons. By getting any kind of video game , you are encouraging both things. Probably the parents feel very good because they make their kids really happy…..and overweight.

  48. Margie says:

    I think, like Anastasia said above, that it is all about balance. I am, and really always have been, very responsible with money. I’ve never had credit card debt, our only debt currently is our mortgage, and we give 10% of income to charity. That being said, I remember going absolutely nuts over the Nintendo my brother and I received one Christmas. We spent lots of time together as a family during holidays, but the material side was pretty important, too, and I really don’t see much wrong with that. I think it’s the world we live in.

    But, you have to have balance. I totally agree with teaching that giving is better than receiving and plan on teaching that to my own children. But I don’t anticipate it being an easy concept to teach. I think truly believing that to be true and actually following through (with your money, not just time) comes with maturity. The older I get, the more important I think it is to help those that are not as fortunate as my family is.

    Anyway, thanks for the blog. I enjoy it!

  49. Amber says:

    This was a truly scary video

  50. Fred says:

    WoW, these are happy kids!

  51. D.B. says:

    I chose not to watch the video, lest it disturb me. I can’t stand that new series of Lexus commercials where the kids (male and female) start out as children at Christmas and talk about their “best gifts EVER!” and then become adults who receive a Lexus and decides that it’s the “best gift EVER!”. It’s the perfect progression of consumerism – Christmas gifts for kids turn into luxury cars for adults.

    I don’t have children, so my only response is a resounding “Bah Humbug”!

    Thanks for posting.


  52. Nicole H. says:

    I actually made it all the way through the video. At first I was slightly disturbed, but as I thought more about it I didn’t think it indicative of wider values issues in the children’s (and teenagers’) lives. The video shots were a few moments on one day probably fueled by excess sugar and excitement from seeing indulging people they don’t get to see on a regular basis. That, and some children are just overly dramatic.

    I would be more disturbed to see a video of a child opening a Wii and not being excited about it.

    I do agree with the strategies Trent said he will use with his children.

  53. Hope D says:

    My son wanted a wii for Christmas. He is 8 years old. He is homeschooled, so it wasn’t because everyone at school was talking about it. We don’t have a TV antenna, so he doesn’t see commercials, only DVD’s and netflix. He wanted one because, he has played one. They are fun. I believe that is the same reason Trent has one. Unfortunately we could not afford one. We let him know that. Instead he received Legos which he loved. If we had the money we would have bought the wii as a family gift. We have five children. I can guarantee you my children would have looked just as excited as the kids on the video. I will be saving up to buy one for them this year. They will help with that.

  54. Jules says:

    I think you’re being a little ridiculous.

    1) It’s Christmas. Kids are excited. They’ll go “Squee!” over almost anything, and if there happens to be a Wii under the tree that they really really wanted since its inception, well, is it so bad a thing to be happy that they got it?

    2) As for materialism and the supposed “lesson” that good feelings come from things: I think that, as long as you’re modeling generally gracious and appropriate behavior, your kids will turn out all right, even if they do get a slight touch of the Gimmes around the holidays.

  55. Jason says:

    It really is amazing the power that consumerism and advertising has on people, and marketers know that this starts at a very young age, so hence, they target their advertisements accordingly.

    Brand recognition can be instilled in the subconscious by creating associations that bring about feelings of contentment, joy, importance, etc. It could be viewed through the psychological concept of classical conditioning. A good example would be the McDonald’s jingle that is played on every single one of their commercials. Before marketing creation: just a tune of random musical notes. After intense marketing for years: probably just about anyone who hears it will at least recognize it immediately as the McDonald’s jingle, and many may think of food and tasty french fries, and may make a stop on their way home to pick up some. This mostly could have only been brought about through successful marketing. Same goes for just about any product heavily advertised – especially the latest trends and hot products that are so much in demand around the holidays.

  56. kim says:

    well, my favorite christmas memories center around receiving my judy bolton (akin to nancy drew) books – i was an avid reader and mystery lover in grade school (still am!)

    we had many “non-family” gifts (non-relatives but close and also parishioners and for lack of a better word, vendors [funeral home directors, etc.] who normally sent us things). several days before christmas, she would let each one of the three of us siblings choose a “non-family” gift to open. kinda helped us kids chill out before the holiday; head start on appreciation and thank you notes.

    big/expensive gifts wasn’t the attraction; it was family, sharing, love, joy. prob’ly the most extravagant gift ever was the set of children’s skis my dad got from a neighbor for my brother (about $20). dad hid them under david’s bed 3 months before christmas (in our family, his room was officially known as a national disaster area!) and then on christmas, he got a little box to open with a clue that led to a treasure hunt to find the skis under his bed!

    anyway, even to this day, we don’t do big huge expensive things for any gifts. we love to give. this year the budget has been tight all round. the married kids were happy with the ikea dresser we gave them. #2 got a gift card to best buy from grandma and grandpa. we gave him a cell phone (so he can job search! etc. it was good. we were happy, content, glad to be together.

  57. Joan says:

    My granddaughter (8 years old) gets loads of gifts from her parents for Christmas and her birthday. This year she had a really long list and the only reasonable priced item on it was webkins. She received four of the webkins, this gave her a total of eight webkins. On December 30th she was at my house and she told me she was BORED and NEEDED to go to the mall. When I asked why she needed to go to the mall, she repeated that she was bored and that she needed more webkins. My other grandchildren got fewer items from their parents and were never bored. Need I say more? Oh yes, she also got new games for her WII, new games and DVD’s for her computer, etc. Her parents can’t understand why she isn’t grateful for what she receives.

  58. Maha says:

    This article and comments disturbed me more than the video. Look, it’s Christmas. It’s once a year. Kids are going to be excited, why rob them of the excitement that comes from getting something they actually, heaven forbide, want? In all of the preachings about giving instead of receiving, how are kids supposed to understand the joy of giving if they don’t experience the joy of receiving? You can’t always explain that giving something will make another person feel good unless they have experienced the feeling and know what it’s like. Then they’ll understand (with your help) why it’s good to give that feeling to others. Note: I’m talking about the feeling. A lot of what I’ve read here about consumerism is your [adult] fear of how it’s going to corrupt your children. You’re imposing your fears onto your children. Although my kids are beginning to understand cost differences in items, they couldn’t care less if something costs $5 or $50. It’s the parents that care, and it’s the parents putting the emphasis on price. So if your child asks for something that costs $5 and really, really wants it and is just as excited as these kids in the video to receive it, are you going to feel guilty for buying into consumerism? Probably not. We can afford to give our kids a lot of stuff at Christmas, but we balance it. This year it was a mix of toys, clothes and crafts. During the year I’ll catch my kids being very generous (which always warms my heart), but I’ve also seen them being very selfish. They’re kids. This is how they learn. Take these opportunities to praise their behavior or correct. But for goodness sakes, don’t take your consumerism fears out on your kids and deny them the joy of receiving something they’d been hoping for.

  59. jan says:

    I must be old! My best gift memory was a small blue cardboard drawer box (my Dad had them in his office for small storage) filled with wondeful ‘stuff’ such as tape, stapler and staples, scissors, index cards, pens and pencils. I loved it. I didn’t have borrow any more. I was 13 years old and it was 1956.

  60. brooke says:

    I love this post. I sent it to my mom and sister. I am with you Trent, there is a way to instill in children long term happiness, and I think you are right on target for that- paying attention to your kids, spending time with them, and giving them a stable environment will make a secure, confident, happy adult some day. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  61. DrFunZ says:

    It is degree of emotion that is displayed here that disturbs me. Most children here are not exhibiting ordinary “glee”; it is borderline hysteria which is out-of-line with receiving a Christmas gift.

    As an only child, I had to wait for everything that was “in” or cool until after most of the world got it! My folks didn’t want me to think that just because I was an only child and they had the money, that I could have everything I wanted it, when I wanted it. So, when I still believed in Santa, I received one fairly important gift (Easy Bake Oven, a bicycle) and a few small gifts – and frankly, I was thrilled. The stocking held the best cheap fun stuff ever; my mother must have shopped all year to find the most unique and zaniest things!

    In regard to the “Igottahaveittoy”, I never got it at Christmas from either Santa or my parents. It either came as a “family” purchase at some odd time of the year (the Wii would have fallen under that category), or as a birthday present at least six months after the Holiday fervor or just as a surprise for doing something extraordinary. Being a good kid and getting good grades were simply expected – there were no rewards for those things. But if I helped my deaf neighbor or gave my old toys to the poor or I did a special project at church, then I often got a reward – a toy, dinner out or a beautiful letter from my parents telling me how proud they were.

    I never hated my parents for their practices. I even understood them as I grew older. They loved me unconditionally. They wanted me to be successful in the world as a generous, self-less person. I was their whole world and I knew it; no gift could ever surpass that.

  62. Karen says:

    I think the Grinch wrote this article and most of the responses. Can money not be a concern for one day of the year?!?!?

  63. JanB says:

    Great post!! This year our kids were not allowed to ask for anything. They would love a Wii, but we have talked together about the expense and they understand why we don’t get one (actually they think the cost is outrageous to if you include game cost). We also don’t have any other video games (handheld included) or cable or satellite. The truth is we don’t have time for any of that stuff. We homeschool and do stuff as a family all the time. We talk all the time about how stuff does not make you happy and they understand. We talk about how blessed we are to have each other and that some children don’t have families. They get it. They still get plenty for Christmas (to much). I can’t seem to get the grandparents under control.

  64. SS says:

    Hi Trent,
    My uncle usually was very into giving gifts, money
    on Christmas. My parents could not afford it. My
    Uncle said Christmas is for kids. I whole heartedly agree. I was by all means not spoiled.
    Just on Christmas!!!!! We would open our presents aat midnight!!!! I have tried to give my daughter
    what I could. She is not spoiled. Most kids want
    things like their friends. It is normal. But I want to share something important!!!! I take my
    daughter to church. She has helped feed the old who cant get out. I have tried to teach her that
    God fills you spirtually. Spending time with her
    is the most important. Showing I care. Doing things for her. This is important. Some of her
    friends are well to do and some not. Her boyfriend
    is very relaxed. She is usually very critical of her appearance. But, now she knows how to just relax and be in her pajamas. So. I truly believe
    though that God fills you up not materialistic items. I can always learn also from this too.

  65. Jillian says:

    Karen says: “I think the Grinch wrote this article and most of the responses. Can money not be a concern for one day of the year?!?!?”
    I’d agree, if it were only for one day. Yes, it’s important to make Christmas exciting for kids, and spoil them a little bit with stuff they wouldn’t normally get – but for a lot of people that ‘one day’ is still sitting on their credit card bill months later, and is very definitely a concern.

  66. Mizzle says:

    What’s so very *wrong* about deriving happiness from consumer goods?

    I agree that it would be awful if the only thing that could make a person happy was stuff you could buy, but there’s no reason to believe that that’s the case here…

    I have a Wii and I enjoy it tremendously. Friends and family have a Mii on my Wii and my mother-in-law asks me to bring the ‘mobile bowling alley’. It’s in the top three of things (both expensive and not) that I own that bring me happiness.

    I guess the danger of stuff actually making you happy is that you’ll start thinking you *need* stuff to make you happy, which would be wrong, but that doesn’t mean the happy-making stuff is wrong…

    Would it be better if the kids weren’t this happy? – You’d have spent the same amount of money but received less for it…

    Is it wrong to spend this much money? (Actually – it’s cheaper than other consoles and more versatile in its appeal, and it’s something you can enjoy for a *long* time.) – I thought frugality was all about spending money *wisely* or not at all. I think the Wii is a *great* product and it’s worth its price, more than anything else I can think of.

    I wish people would stop being so negative about the Wii. There’s plenty of non-violent games and Wii Sports encourages people to get off the couch. (It doesn’t count as exercise, but does burn significantly more calories than ‘normal’ video games.) It’s just never good enough…

    *not affiliated to Nintendo, just very happy with my Wii*

  67. J says:

    My God is the grinch and Scrooge are out this morning. How many people on this list also enjoyed “A Christmas Story” this holiday season, where little Ralphie wanted his Red Ryder BB gun? I’m 34 and reacted like this when I was finally able to order my Wii after not only saving up for it for six months, but then actually being able to find one when one was in stock. I didn’t pay for it on a credit card or go into debt for it. Assuming how any one of the parents got the money is just that — an assumption.

    As Mizzle notes, the Wii does have a tremendous amount of positives. At $249, it’s reasonably priced relative to other consoles. The gameplay is fabulous, and I’ve seen everyone from a 3 year old to a 60 year old enjoy the games. Also, there are many, many kid-friendly titles out there, plus titles adults can enjoy, too. XBox is going after the older gamers, and I’m not really sure who the PS3 is going after, but the Wii is a huge success because it actually concentrates on innovation in game play and dynamics, it’s not about pushing more pixels and making yet another FPS you control with controller which has changed little since the PlayStation.

    Also, keep in mind the Wii has been difficult to come by for going on three years now, it’s quite a phenomenon. Some of these kids might have quite literally been waiting 2-3 years for this gift, and been playing it at friend’s houses. I remember when I was a kid, waiting 4-6 weeks seemed like torture.

    And as for deriving joy from a consumer product, why don’t people concentrate on playing games with their kid? I play Wii with my daughter from time to time. We don’t do it all the time, but we do it together.

    and @Ranga, read up on Santa. The point is that kids think Santa came to the house. Also these are small clips, who knows if they said thank you or not?

  68. Aaron Kulbe says:

    Trent, my Twitter reply was a bit sarcastic…

    @trenttsd Must train up the future generation of materialists, you know. The Wii…. the greatest thing since sliced bread. (BARF).

    But I’m more and more convinced that it is accurate. Michael Mihalik, who you have mentioned before – would call this all part of the “Great Marketing Machine”.

    I want to enjoy Christmas, but my first response is to recoil because of all the marketing hype. This video just furthers those feelings.

    However, as I get older, I realize that holidays are more and more important to me. Not because of the material things, but because of the opportunity I get to spend the time with the family and friends that are precious to me.

    Does that sound silly?

  69. Misty says:

    My husband and I bought a Wii after playing one at a friends house. We thought about it for over a year and finally my husband bought it when I was at work. We have a 14 month old and we look forward to playing the Wii with him when he gets older.
    This does make me think of the gifts that I recieved when I was younger, especially in relation to one of my grandparents. My grandpa remarried when my mom was in her 20s to my grandma. My grandma was not the warmest person and there was definately a difference in how she treated her blood grandchilden and me although I was the only grandchild for about 10 years. She took me to Disney and bought me great gifts but the warmth wasn’t there…As I got older I saw this and about a decade later am finally accepting it and moving on.
    I digress..so my gift from my parents was an American Doll (Samantha) when the company first began. My grandmother bought the majority of the clothing for her and later bought me another doll. I do remember being excited when I opened the package and saw the American Doll box inside.
    However, looking back, I think I would have rather had her spend time with me than the gifts. They are now in my parents attic waiting for a girl that I may someday have.

  70. rstlne says:

    This is the kind of video that parents can save and use to embarrass their grown-up children 20 years later.

  71. Noel says:

    My children do get a nice gift for Christmas. They think it is from Santa and they enjoy it and they anticipate it. I don’t feel that it’s a bad thing. They also get the majority of the clothing they’ll wear this year, bath towels, and books. When they were small we bought them toys, now that they’re bigger they get the electronic gadgets. This year the older ones got MP3 players and the baby got toys. When my husband or I want or need something we save our money and when we have enough we buy it. We have very little extra money so saving it takes a while. My children don’t get an allowance except for in the summer, so they don’t have that opportunity. We don’t buy them toys and gadgets very often, especially the big things. We don’t tie our love for them to the size of the gifts because they think that Santa buys them. My 8 year old told me this year that she knows there is a Santa because Mom and Dad could never have afforded to buy all of this. We don’t do any credit cards all is cash. We save very hard all year to afford them this, and it lasts all year. Usually we do all of our shopping by the time the Santa list gets written, so we know what they will or will not get on the list. We encourage them to keep the list short, one or two things. We buy them what we think they will like, not necessarily what they want. This year we bought the MP3 players in June on sale. We talked them up all fall, and by Dec. it was all they could talk about. They were very happy with their gifts, even the bath towels and underwear. My kids have 3 sets of grandparents and a childless Aunt and Uncle who can and do buy them nice gifts. They have never lacked for toys, even though we can’t afford to buy them all. They are lucky little girls and they know this. We talk often about “poor kids” and we give to them what we no longer use or have to many of. One year we got 18 babydolls for Christmas. Only 2 came from us, one for each daughter. We lined them up across the floor and each child picked two to keep, the rest went to Good Will (the poor kids who don’t have toys). We also do the boxes for Operation Christmas Child. The girls choose gifts to put in the boxes and write a note also. They understand that there are others who don’t have as much. They understand that they are blessed to have what they do. They also know other kids who have much more than they do. These are all facts of life. We have fun together playing games and such and enjoy each other’s company. That’s the most important thing. Everyone has wants and needs and everyone “gets things,” even the most frugal among us. There is no reason why they should feel bad about themselves for wanting things. We’re setting an example for them by not spending all the time. When they are older and find out that Mom and Dad really do buy all those gifts, we’ll make sure that they understand that we save all year for them. It’s a lesson to learn about saving to make something nice. Christmas is important in our family, right now they are on the receiving end, when they are older they’ll realize what the giving end of Christmas is all about. Until then they have secret Santa shop at school to learn with. They each get $15.00 and a list of names to buy for. The gifts are $1.00 each. They buy gifts and wrap them. They enjoy so much the giving, they understand all of it, they just don’t have the means to do it on the scale that the grown ups do.

  72. The Other Michael says:

    *I just bought something that made me ecstatic: new insoles for my shoes that are unbelievably comfortable.

    *The fleece robe I got for xmas makes me very happy because I don’t have to be cold anymore on my way to the shower.

    Am I wrong to derive happiness from these material things?

    A game center of today will provide you kid with thousands of hours of social interaction that might otherwise be spent watching TV or doing god-knows-what-else.

    There are pointless trinkets that people buy, and then there are valuable tools. These should not all be lumped together under “consumer product”.

  73. WoW Parent says:

    these days, kids don’t just want material gifts. some kids even ask their parents for “virtual gifts” like Warcraft gold for Christmas present!

  74. Julie says:

    I give three cheers for the Grinch! Not because he took the Whos Christmas gifts and trappings, nor because he brought them back, but because he learned what the Whos down in Whoville already knew: “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

  75. Daner says:

    To me the video shows some kids that are not used to getting everything they want. Look how happy they are; this clearly was one thing that they really, really, wanted and they were not sure that they would get it.
    It would have been a lot more disturbing is they hardly looked at the gift or, even worse, complained that it came with too few games/controllers/whatever.

    One thing that turned my stomach, though, was the parent who said “it means that wii love you”. I really don’t think it’s a good idea to teach children that parents love them more if they give expensive presents.

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