We’ve all witnessed it before. At a store or in the mall, we see a child or teen dressed in name-brand clothes, wearing the latest hot-selling sneakers, texting on a smartphone, and playing the newest release on a hand-held game device. The child or teen we are witnessing is stomping, crying, whining, and pouting for more. As you recoil in horror at this scene, you start looking around hoping that no one is watching–because that child is yours.
“Well, I don’t give my children name-brand anything and they sure don’t have a cellphone,” I can hear someone saying. That very well may be true, but there may be other signs of ingratitude leaking out like toxins into your household. Perhaps your child quietly groans when you direct him to clean up his toys. Maybe your cute, little-angel daughter transforms into a creature from another planet when you put a dinner plate in front of her, one that is not her favorite meal.
How are we to deal with ingratitude in a culture that thrives on obtaining and displaying wealth in every domain of life? From fingernails to shoelaces, we are “blinged out” and sparkling. Not only is wealth celebrated, but instant gratification is as well. Cable, phone, and internet companies compete on speed, entire meals are prepared with the touch of a microwave button, and we no longer have to wait for photographs to develop. We live in a society that revolves around “I” and the idea that we deserve to get whatever we want exactly when we want it. With children growing up in this type of cultural atmosphere, how can we teach gratitude?
First, look at your own values as displayed by your lifestyle. Are you someone who enjoys the finer things in life? There’s nothing wrong with that. However, examine your reasons and motives behind getting that new $300 handbag or $60,000 car. Are your purchases based on keeping up with or outdoing others? Are you competing or comparing yourself to someone else or media standards? Do you buy things to feel better about yourself? Take away the outfit, the jewelry, the shoes and the cars, and is your esteem crushed? Do your possessions define you or do you define your possessions? Yes, there are many questions to consider in a “gratitude self-assessment,” and here are two more worth exploring as you reflect on the underlying motivations of your material desires. How are you paying for these items? Are you getting into debt to keep up a certain appearance?
Your relationship with your things will shape how your child comes to view and define his or her needs and wants. If you want your young one to understand a moral or value you hold dear, he or she will comprehend it better if they see that value in you.
Secondly, be intentional. Messages of materialism are hounded into our children daily, hourly, even by the minute. If you expect your message of gratitude to be heard over the roar of materialism, you must make a conscious effort to not only live it out, but also to talk about it. And it doesn’t just have to be a boring conversation or lecture. Be creative. Catching up together on current events, exploring cultures different than your own via fairs, museums, and craft activities; and watching documentaries on social issues can be ways of encouraging dialogue about your values and beliefs. Find moments to express thanksgiving about things we sometimes take for granted. Getting in the habit of pointing out your many blessings can help shape your child’s mindset and also encourage gratitude.
Finally, never underestimate the power of volunteerism. As a family, find something that you can do together that will allow your children an opportunity to act for a cause and be benevolent to others. Not only will you enjoy precious family time, but you will be modeling your morals and instilling in your child a sense of goodwill and charity. The experience of volunteering at a soup kitchen, or helping to assemble holiday baskets, or assisting with a fundraiser to address a major illness, or participating in whatever it is you find to do, may help your child maintain a healthy perspective of blessings and will emphasize the joy of giving versus just receiving.
Here’s a website with potential volunteer opportunities throughout Maryland to get you started: http://marylandvolunteercenters.org/.
This article is intended for general education purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please contact The Stone Foundation by clicking here, or by phone at 410-296-2004.
Leslie J. Sherrod, MSW, LGSW, is an outreach social worker at a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. She also has experience providing psychotherapy to children, teens, adults, and families. She is the author of several inspirational novels, including Without Faith, Losing Hope, Secret Place, and Like Sheep Gone Astray. Visit her website at www.LeslieJSherrod.com for more information. Find Leslie on Facebook: Leslie J. Sherrod; Twitter: @lesliejsherrod