"All I want for Christmas is a flat-panel television, a digital camera, $50 running shoes, and a pile of toys."
It sounds like an adult wish list, and a rather ambitious one at that, but this, increasingly, is what kids are asking Santa for. And Santa is obliging.
On a message board I frequent, a woman mentioned that she is buying her young children, among other pricey gifts, their own flat-panel HD television sets. Someone mentioned that this seemed excessive, and she responded that this was the first Christmas her family could afford more extravagant gifts, so they are hopping feet first on the spend-spend-spend train with one way tickets to Debtville.
She didn't put it in those exact words, but shockingly close.
My problems with this are many. Here's a few:
- She obviously feels guilty that her young children enjoyed simpler holidays in the past when 'simple' should be one of the major goals. Thank you, Corporate America. Your work here is done.
- Electronics are not appropriate gifts for children. Children have no business watching TV often enough to have use for their own set. Even if they are using them for video games--no, especially if they are using them for video games! If parents decides to overdo presents one year, more power to them. They could buy one of those nifty wooden swing sets, or a Brio train set, or any of the thousands of really nice educational and earth-savvy toys.
- As soon as her family has extra money, it goes to consumer electronics. As opposed to: savings, college funds, charities, investments, or wiser purchases that will be useful and useable in five years.
- Her children will not be thinking about religion, goodwill toward men, or giving to others this season. They will be too busy watching TV. Their parents have left them no alternative.
- What will happen if they are back to forced frugality next year? The kids will feel deprived.
- They are probably convinced they can't afford organic produce.
- If too many people do this, it will become expected, and then children from more responsible families will feel unloved and left-out. Oh, wait, that's already happened.
In essence, they have ruined Christmas, both this year and possibly the next, for their family and every family they know.
Many of us could afford to buy expensive gadgets for each of our children, but know better. Here is a good rule of thumb for buying children's holiday gifts: Buy them something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. For example, a four-year-old girl could receive the Barbie she's asking for, a bike to replace one she is outgrowing, a cute pair of flannel pajamas, and a big stack of books, plus a stocking full of miscellanea. Nowhere does a television fit in.
If you make a pie graph of a child's life, TV should be a marginal, barely visible sliver. The rest could be eating, sleeping, playing, learning, socializing. The bigger that television section gets, the smaller everything else gets. So even if a parent thought (despite scientific evidence to the contrary) that their children's minds and bodies would not be adversely affected by sitting in front of a flickering screen, they would have to consider that they are taking valuable hours away from the things that really matter.