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Raising Children, part 2: Not For Sale

The most valuable form of activism in this day and age may be to explore a lifestyle based around simple living and simple joy. . . It is activism to explain to our kids the hype and deceit involved with the endless ads which incite them to buy something new or get in on the latest craze. Our kids may be deeper if we treat them with depth.—Bo Lozoff, Deep and Simple

Our market culture tells poor children they must have [certain consumer goods] to be somebody while denying them the jobs to buy them legally. Our rich children have these things, but find them no substitute for love, attention, and purpose beyond self.—Marian Wright Edelman, Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors

It’s easy to see the ways in which advertising harms children. It teaches them to be perpetually dissatisfied, focused on their wants, and disposed to rank other people according to the stuff they have. It distances children from prayer, neighbor-love, thrift, gratitude and joy. And it’s pervasive, confronting them in billboards, on radio and TV commercials, and in the daily conversation of other kids. We need to actively work to help the children we care about develop sales resistance, and to find love, attention, and purpose beyond themselves.

It helps to talk directly to kids about how and why marketers try to grab their attention and seduce them into wanting an endless procession of things.  Encourage them to stop and evaluate ads, commercial or political, rather than just reacting emotionally to them. Books like Susan Linn’s Consuming Kids and Betsy Taylor’s What Kids Really Want That Money Can’t Buy have suggestions for how to do this.

It helps to get kids involved in work and service. Competence and the ability to help are a real form of power that makes purchasing power pale in comparison.

It helps to look with kids at the sources of the things we use. Who made those things? How were those people treated? Can they afford to buy the things they make? To buy the things they need? How does that fit with the command to love our neighbors?

It helps to take time to savor things that cost nothing: spend time outside enjoying God’s creation, go to libraries, sing and tell stories with friends and family.

It helps to express gratitude for all the things that God and our neighbors have already given to us. If we live in gratitude and joy, chances are our kids will too.

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