Kids love toys, and most kids especially love shiny new toys that they don't yet have. With the approach of Christmas, many kids are gearing up for a season of pressuring their parents to buy as many shiny, new, and generally expensive toys as possible. Many times kids get ideas about what new toys to buy (or ask their parents to buy) based on advertising. This is all normal for 21st century America. The part that is different this year is that some parents are speaking out against toy advertisements in an effort to lower the expectations that their children have for new toys.
In a down economy, many parents don't have enough money to spend extravagantly on toys for Christmas, and some parents are forced to shop extremely frugally. This is all understandable - parents who are having financial troubles need to prioritize the mortgage over toys.
The part that I find to be absurd is the attempt by parents to rely on others to teach their children important life lessons. Many of our current economic problems are caused by our impatient entitlement culture - people spend more than they can afford in order to live the lifestyle that they believe they are entitled to. Instead on relying on fewer advertisements to make life easier on parents, lets use this downturn as an opportunity to teach children the true meaning of Christmas. Here's a hint: the true meaning of Christmas is not about accumulating as many toys as we can, it is about a gift given to us by God over 2000 years ago.
A common reason that parents place so much importance on buying expensive toys for their children is that they want their children to fit in with other kids at school. Some parents place an extremely high value on ensuring that their kids have the same toys as their peers - one mother even said that she would resort to prostitution in order to be able to afford toys for her kids. Basically, parents are teaching their children that happiness in life involves having all of the latest gadgets that other people have. This act of teaching children to (from the very youngest ages) keep up with the Joneses leads to adults that expect to live the same way, which has contributed to our current economic crisis. There is nothing wrong with parents buying nice gifts for their children (or for themselves). But when we start planning our purchases based not on how much we (or our children) will enjoy using an object but instead on how we believe other people will perceive us (or our children) if we own the shiny new toy, we are chasing after temporary relationships that will never last.
A few weeks ago, my small group had the opportunity to serve dinner at Faith Mission. This is a shelter for homeless men who have nowhere else to turn. It is the second time that I have been able to serve there, and each time is rewarding. I am reminded of the many blessings God has given me. I may not have designer clothes or a luxury car (the old Taurus with a big scratch in it does not quite count) but I have a beautiful wife, two wonderful (when they are not screaming) children, and a great home. I have much to be thankful for.
If you have children of the appropriate age (we definitely plan to include ours when they get older), give them the opportunity to serve someone less fortunate. Seeing a homeless man who is truly thankful for something as simple as a meal (which most of us take for granted) is an eye opening experience. If our children learn to appreciate what they have instead of complaining about what they don't have, they will have gained a gift that will serve them longer than anything you can buy at a store.