I’m a goal-oriented person. With almost everything I do in life, I set a clear goal for what I want to accomplish, then I do the research needed to figure out how to get there, then I work at it tenaciously.
The same is true for parenting. I know quite well it is impossible for me to raise my children to have every possible positive character trait, so I decided long ago to focus on a small handful of them and push my parenting in a direction that encourages those behaviors.
Really, there are three such goals.
I want my children to be self-reliant and feel like they can handle almost anything life throws at them. I want my children to value learning (and talking about things they’ve learned) and make it a normal part of their life.
And perhaps most relevant of all (to The Simple Dollar, anyway), I want my children to not derive their self-worth from the stuff that they own or don’t own, but instead from who they are and what they’ve accomplished.
I have several prongs in my approach to this.
We’re very picky when it comes to the media they consume. We have a DVR and use it to record specific programs, usually nature documentaries or PBS shows. That, along with some films on DVD, is all they’re allowed to watch on television, and we cap that pretty tightly, too. The big reason is that we don’t want them to watch commercials where children seem very happy due to owning a particular toy on a repetitive basis.
We steer our own conversations away from “who owns what.” This actually has a dual benefit. Not only does it keep us from creating the appearance that stuff defines people for the kids, it helps to break that connection in our own minds, too.
Instead, we try to focus on the qualities of various people. I usually make it a point to identify – and usually try to point out – a good quality about a person when that person comes up in a family conversation. “Your friend is really energetic! I bet he’s really good at playing soccer!” and so on.
We focus our praise mostly on hard work. What does this have to do with keeping them from being a consumer? It builds their self-worth around their positive character traits instead of leaving them empty and searching for something to feel good about – which can often be their possessions. I don’t praise everything they do, but I strongly praise their effort in a positive direction, especially when that effort is producing a good result (like my son’s ongoing journey towards reading).
We actively work against defining other people by their stuff. This hasn’t been an issue yet for our children, but it has come up a time or two. “I don’t like person X because he has a Batman” is the prime example I can remember from the recent past. I take a lot of time to talk about things like this and tear away the material possession from the personal choice. Here, we brought it down to a sharing issue – it is nice to share, but you shouldn’t expect someone to always share what they have, and it’s a good idea to set a sharing example first.
Do you have any additional ideas on how to keep our kids from focusing their energies on consumerism?