“My kids have too much stuff.”
It is a complaint I have heard from parents countless times. And it’s certainly not a complaint entirely unwarranted.
The statistics would seem to back up the argument:
- British research found that the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily (The Telegraph).
- 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally (UCLA).
- In the United States, we spend $371 per child annually on toys. In the UK, the dollar amount is closer to $450 (World Atlas).
So I get it, our kids have stuff. Probably too much. But I think, as parents, we too often put the blame for this reality on the wrong person.
Our kids do have lots of toys and clothes and video games and crafts. But let’s remember, they aren’t the ones with the steady paychecks and they didn’t organize their last birthday party.
If there are too many toys in your playroom, you put them there—or, at the very least, you allowed them to stay.
Even worse, often times, our kids are simply following our lead. When the average American home contains 300,000 items, how upset can we really get that our kids own 238 toys? And when 33% of us can’t fit both cars in our double-garages, how unreasonable is it to assume our child will fill their art and craft drawer to overflowing?
In a society that encourages consumerism at every turn, what else should we expect? Our children are only following our lead.
But this is not just a societal issue, it’s a personal one as well.
I sometimes wonder what the three most common words are in American homes. Is it “I love you?” Or, is it…
- “It’s on sale!”
- “I want that!”
- “Watch this ad.”
- Or “Let’s go shopping!”
Haven’t we all witnessed (and/or experienced) the parent who gets upset with their child at the store?
A weary mother or father pushes their child around a store while the boy or girl almost obligatorily reaches for items on the shelves—asking, and then demanding, this or that.
After repeated answers of “No,” the frustration begins to grow. Finally, the parent puts their foot down in the situation. And the child responds with their own expression of frustration and anger. It’s certainly not a rare occurrence.
A wise parent once told me, “It’s a good sign to see a child throwing a fit in a store. Usually it means the parent is being the responsible one and not just giving in to every desire of the child.” And I agree, boundaries are helpful for children.
In fact, children who do not learn boundaries become adults who do not define them.
But I would like to argue today, that as parents, maybe we are getting mad at the wrong person. Rather than pointing out the unbecoming nature of our child’s behavior, maybe we should start looking at the fingers pointing back at us.
Almost certainly, our child did not drive to Target on their own. Our kids are in the store because we took them there—usually because we wanted (or “needed”) to buy something for ourselves or our family. And this is what you do in a store, isn’t it? You grab things off the shelf, you put them in your cart, and then you take them home.
No wonder our kids ask us to buy them stuff at the store… they’ve seen us buy things for ourselves a thousand times before.
Granted, there are legitimate reasons to go shopping. I’m not arguing against all consumption.
But we ought to remember that our children are watching us closely. Whether we like it or not, they are soaking up values from us as parents about how to live, how to work, how to achieve significance… and how to spend money. And if we are constantly desiring things we don’t need, why would we expect anything else from our kids?
Maybe we should stop getting mad at them for wanting things at Target… and start questioning if we really needed to be there in the first place.