- - Sunday, December 9, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Culture challenge of the week: Lists, links, and lots of stuff

Is it just me? Or is this season’s holiday advertising more driven than ever?

Perhaps it’s because retailers are desperate to meet sales numbers in this dismal economy, or perhaps it’s because marketers are more successful in targeting ads to match consumer interest, but the end result is the same: Christmas ads bombard us — and our children — priming us to want more stuff. Facebook ads, website pop-ups, TV commercials and email ads with clickable links — there’s no escape. And the frenzied pace, music and language makes us feel anxious. We better get our stuff fast, before it’s gone.

Today’s generic holiday ads no longer prompt generous, thoughtful giving; they seem bent on stoking our appetite for “getting” rather than giving.

The “gotta-haves” dominate parents’ “to do” lists. And the frantic pursuit of it all obliterates any hope of peace and good will before Christmas.

Stop, parents! There’s a better way.

How to save your family: Teach ‘giving’

Children easily tune in to their own wants; it’s our job to help them tune in to others’ needs. While we aim to do this year round, there’s no better time than Christmas to begin anew. After all, “giving” is still in the air — once we step away from the advertisements and think about the meaning of our holiday celebrations. Let that meaning — the gift of Jesus’ love — inspire your family to reach out to others more deeply this Christmas.

Counter the spirit of greed by asking your children to write two Christmas lists this year: one list of gifts they hope to receive, and another of gifts they want to give (including gifts of time). Spend your time helping your children fulfill their “giving” list. Provide the practical help so they follow through on those generous impulses.

Encourage your children to give beyond the immediate family circle. Is there a favorite teacher whose kindness has made a difference? A lonely, elderly neighbor who always waves as she drives by? A disabled child in class or a grocery store employee with a handicap who is too often “invisible” to others? Bring them joy with an unexpected note or inexpensive gift.

On a larger scale, rather than automatically mailing a check to charitable organizations, include your kids in the giving process. One mom I know invites her children to explore the websites of three charities. The family discusses those causes and the children weigh in on the decision to support a charity, and add their own piggy-bank contributions to mom and dad’s larger gifts.

Need help choosing a charity? Here are a few for your consideration:

• Fisher House (fisherhouse.org) provides military families with a free place to stay when wounded military family members are hospitalized. The houses, each with private suites and common areas, are near military medical centers. The Fisher House Foundation needs your support to expand into more communities, so that every recovering wounded hero will have the consolation of having family nearby.

• Angel Tree Ministry, a ministry sponsored by Prison Fellowship (prisonfellowship.org), cares for the nearly 1.7 million children who have an incarcerated parent. These children suffer great pain and deprivation because of their parent’s troubles. Angel Tree not only restores the relationship between incarcerated parents and their families — but also meets children’s physical needs, such as school supplies, birthday presents and Christmas gifts, and emotional and spiritual needs, through camps, vacation Bible schools and mentoring.

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