Today I took my children on our yearly trip to the store to each pick out one toy to donate to the Chanukah Toy Drive. It is one way we take a step back from all the commercialism that surround us during this season, and the lists they have been making for the Chanukah presents they want to receive. It is quite ironic that we begin this time of year with Thanksgiving, where we focus on being grateful for what we have, and then spend the rest of the month struck withthe case of the “gimmees” with yearning for all that we don’t have.
This past week’s parasha speaks of the meeting of Eisav and Yaakov in Bereishit 33:8-9, 11), “[Eisav] said, ‘What is your relationship to this camp that I encountered?” And, [Yaakov] said, ‘[I sent it] in order to find favor in the eyes of my master.’ And Eisav said, ‘I have much, my brother, let what you have remain yours.’ [But, Yaakov replied] ‘G-d has been kind to me, and I have everything.’ And, he persisted and [Eisav] took.”
The Chofetz Chaim on these words stresses the two different life outlooks that Eisav and Yaakov had. Yaakov said, “I have everything”- I have all I need, and I have no need for anything more. Eisav, on the other hand, said that he has “much,” but can always need more material possessions. He will never acquire “everything” as he always wants more and more. As we know “Eizehu ashir hasameach b’chelko.” “Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has.”
How do we raise our teens with this Yaakov philosophy and not with the Eisav philosophy?
Unfortunately, we are fighting a losing battle, as a recent research study by Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. Tim Kasser, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin indicates. They surveyed 355,000 high school students starting in the mid-1970’s until today to monitor materilistic values. Teens were asked questions regarding how often they wanted a new car, or their views on being wealthy one day. Today’s teens desire money more than in the 1970s. However, even though their desire for wealth and material goods has increased, their desire to work hard to achieve that wealth has lessened. They are less willing to work to earn what they want. They call this a “fantasy gap” and it is consistent with previous studies which indicate increased narcissism and entitlement. Twenge says that teens mistakenly believe that the “good life” is the “goods life.”
Kasser adds that placing intense importance on money and possessions is associated with depression and anxiety, according to his earlier research.
What can parents do to combat this increasing materialism? Twenge suggests limiting exposure to advertising. Advertising does not demonstrate the hard work that goes into obtaining the objects they are advertising. Having a discussion about the advertisements is also impactful. Parents should also talk to children about how much items in their lives cost, so they can have more realistic expectations about the income needed to obtain the objects they want. As I wrote in my previous blog, helping teens focus on gratitude for what they have and what others are lacking is an important way for them to put less focus on objects they want.
It was also found that children with low self-esteem were more likely to be materialistic, and they needed objects to make them “happy.” Children with high self-esteem find “happiness” through friendships, helping others and sports. Research indicates that parents can decrease materialism by being accepting, supportive and helping boost the self-esteem of their children, minimizing their need to use material objects to boost their self-images.
Clearly, we as parents often over-indulge our children, which can exacerbate the situation. They often manipulate us by telling us that “everyone has it” and they will be misfits and outcasts if they don’t have that item. The teenage need to fit in with peers includes the need to wear or have what everyone else has. Due to actual neurodevelopment, adolescents often do not think about consequences and therefore, the impact that their financial demands can make on the family is not usually their focus. Whatever we can do to “just say, ‘No’” can help. Instead of buying things for our children to show we care, we can try to spend time with them, (and not at the mall!)
Some other ideas are: Making them wait. See if their desire for the object will die down if they do not get it right away. Have your children prioritize what they want. Setting an example, as with all behaviors is essential. What is our own focus on materialistic objects?
In a Christian newsletter I found on-line on the topic of materialism they encourage parents to ask their children the following regarding holiday presents: “Have your teen make a list of the top five presents they want to receive. Then ask: 1. What influenced you to rank your presents in this order? 2. Do you think this present will be this important to you next year at this time? Why or why not? 3. Do these presents have any eternal significance to your life or another’s life? Do you think that should matter? 4. If we had the option to give our Holiday budget for presents to a needy family, would you agree to give a. all of it? b. half of it? c. some of it? d. none of it?”
Experts also stress the importance of seeking out other families in the community who share similar values. Luckily, Judaism highlights the fleeting nature of the material and the everlasting nature of the spiritual. Within our own community/religion/culture we have the right messages if we reinforce them correctly. By talking about the Eisav mentality which surrounds us with the our teens, in a frank manner, we can introduce them to the Yaakov mentality of being content with what one has .
Sixth Grade: Sixth graders began the “Hey Dude, Don’t Be Rude” unit by focusing on Bar/Bat Mitzvah ettiquette and behavior.
Seventh Grade: Students focused on the secret to resiliency when it comes to facing adversity in life.
Eighth Grade: “What Am I Good At?” was a question our eighth graders focused upon. What makes them unique?