Balancing Consumerism with Philanthropy

posted by Talk About Giving blog team

May 26, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

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Raising the next generation of philanthropists means we have to do more than simply teach them to give—we have to impart our value system for responsible resource management. Our kids should learn a healthy respect for the power of money—to do good or bad. In our increasingly materialistic and narcissistic society, it has become especially important to teach philanthropy and civic responsibility.

Experts believe that consumerism is more prevalent than ever before. “Commercialism has never permeated society like this before,” says psychologist Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are exposed to 40,000 ads every year. For young children who lack the ability to distinguish between program content and advertising, these commercials heavily influence the early development of their consumer ideals. Just take your six-year-old grocery shopping with you next time—does he ask for the plain cereal box or the one featuring his favorite cartoon character? 

If kids are not provided with a filter for interpreting consumer messages, it will become natural for them to “associate happiness and a sense of wellbeing with getting what they want, rather than interacting meaningfully with people…and learning how to have an influence on the world,” notes Dr. Diane Levin, a professor of education and founder of Stop Commercialization of Children (SCEC). A great way to give your children the critical skills they need for making future consumer choices is by introducing them to the concepts of need, philanthropy, and responsibility.

The best way to pass on meaningful—and weighty—values is simply to incorporate them into your family’s daily lifestyle. Research has proven that children’s future behavior is influenced by parental modeling, so consider how you can demonstrate consumer responsibility and philanthropy in your own choices. For example, perhaps you thought briefly about buying a new TV, but ultimately decided your current television is just fine. Let your child in on that thought process. Or, you have decided to give some extra support to a nonprofit. Explain the reasons for your decision to your children. Moments like these may seem small, but when you take time to teach your children, they will be better equipped to grow into healthy consumers and committed givers.

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