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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Building kids of character: Needs vs. Wants

By Deborah Hansen

“One of the weaknesses of our age is inability to distinguish needs from greeds.” -Don Robinson

Recently I watched a television program that followed the story of a family that sold everything and moved to Africa. One of their purposes was to provide their children with an understanding of what is truly important in life.

Their children were less than enthusiastic about this adventure, as you can imagine. They whined and cried, lamenting the critical needs they had in order to get from dawn to dark every day. Things like their televisions, computers, video games, and cell phones.

However, by the end of the family’s stay in Africa, the kids didn’t want to come home.

They had discovered the difference between the things that are necessary to living a meaningful life and those things that are merely non-essential gadgets.

Perhaps we all have lost sight of what is necessary in life. We have fallen into the trap set for us by the media and advertisers, the trap that insists we need the latest cell phone, a bigger car, a laptop and a PC at home, plus and now a mini-computer that goes everywhere with us, too.

We want it all and we have convinced ourselves that we need these things in order to be successful people. The economy is reflecting this inability to rein in the human tendency for more, always more. The sight that was never in end arrived a few years ago and seems intent on hanging around, bringing unemployment and misery to many.

As parents, we must teach our children to distinguish between wants and needs. Bottom line, our needs are food, water, shelter, and clothing. These are the things that keep us alive. Therefore, they are the only essentials.

The kids who went to Africa discovered that their new friends in that part of the world had food, but not in great quantity and certainly not in the varieties available to them back in the States. Yet, everyone had enough to live on. They also learned, though, that there are many children in Africa as well as other places around the world, including America, that simply don’t have enough to keep them alive. This knowledge changed their way of thinking about food and water forever.

Children demand the latest fashions as if they are absolutes, too. They do not have the maturity to foresee how quickly they will grow out of those pricey name brands. Or that the family income is barely covering food, housing, and electricity. Our job as parents is to take charge of the spending in a way that balances the “wants” with the “needs.”

Technology has allowed inexpensive electronics to dominate our lives as if these tools are essentials. Yes, some of them make life easier and some are necessary to carry on a business (and pay the bills for the family), for example. However, our children have been convinced that they are vital elements for them, too. Does every child need a cell phone? Texting and calling their friends is fun and keeps them in touch with their peers, but let’s call it that: A “want” and not a “need.” They CAN live without them, both literally and figuratively.

The character of not only our children but of our society is being warped due to the inability to distinguish between what is essential and what is media- and advertising-induced delusion. We are being slapped in the face with our foolishness as we struggle to pay for all these non-essential things, things that we convinced ourselves were necessities of life. Let’s re-teach our children this valuable lesson so they aren’t faced with it again in the future.

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