You don’t have to teach a child to say, “Gimme that!” or “I want another one!” Greed comes naturally to all of us. It’s easy to want more than what we have. Children ages 2-11 see an average of 25,600 advertisements a year. These ads parade everything from fast food to cereal, movies, to toys. The more your children hear about the latest gadget, comic strip hero, or mouth watering potato chip, the more they will ask you for them.
Greed is not a new problem because of the rise of technology. The Apostle John wrote that “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16). These words written thousands of years ago ring true today. Children crave junk food and candy (the lust of the flesh). They see new toys, video games, iPhones, and they want them (the lust of the eyes). They desire to possess the same stuff that their classmates have and even more (the pride of life).
So how can you raise kids who aren’t always asking for more? How can you raise a generous child who is not following the lead of this world?
Use screen time wisely. Television is still the number one place kids are spending their media time which means they are watching a lot of commercials. They are also seeing ads online. Eighty-seven percent of the most popular children’s websites carry advertising with 3 billion display ads for food and beverages. Out of these 3 billion ads, one third of them offer premiums with purchases. Advertisers are vying for your child’s attention and your dollars. Limit your child’s screen time and you will limit their exposure to advertisements. Your child can’t want what they don’t know about.
Read books about characters that help others. When a child reads and gets engrossed in the struggles of a character in a book, he or she becomes more empathetic and generous to others in real life. When my son Ethan was in fourth grade, he read about Corrie ten Boom and her courage in hiding Jews during World War II. Learning about Corrie made Ethan much more grateful for the safety he experiences. Good books can influence our children to be generous to others in extraordinary ways both now and in the future.
Expose your children to poverty. Whether it’s taking your kids on a missions trip, supporting a child through an organization like Compassion International, or watching videos of children who live in a developing nation, you must show your children that not everyone lives like they do in America. Explain that there are many kids around the world who don’t have running water. You might serve only rice and beans for one day to illustrate the diet of many children worldwide.
I remember one time we headed for a restaurant as a family to use a coupon. When we pulled up to the restaurant, it was closed…permanently! My kids wailed about their hunger. I said, “Now kids, there are millions around the world who feel this hunger every day.” My son replied, “But they are used to it, and we’re not!” We had a good laugh and it certainly illustrated to all of us how good we really have it.
Engage in service as a family. Pray for opportunities to serve others so you can model generosity to your children. You might see a single mom who looks overwhelmed at a fast food restaurant and you could pay her bill. We live close to the Mexican border and our friend was going to the dump to bring sandwiches to the people who live there. It was not appropriate for our kids to go to that dump, but we were able to spread mayonnaise and assemble 200 sandwiches for those families.
As you model generosity yourself and pray to keep greed at bay in your own life, you will teach your kids to do the same. Highlight generosity in your home by lavishing praise on your children when they are generous to each other or to a friend. Dennis Prager said, “Goodness is about character – integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people.” As your children live out the Golden Rule of treating others how they would want to be treated, they will become examples of generosity in this gimme-gimme more world.