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Coping with Kids' "Holiday Gimmes"

Dealing with kids' insistent desires for certain presents during the holidays isn't easy, but helping children understand the marketing manipulation that increases the cravings can foster deep rewards, says sociologist Christine Carter of UC B

Even seasoned parents blessed with deep reservoirs of patience can find themselves at wits' end when assaulted by their kids' relentless reminders and begging for specific toys and other holiday presents.

It can be especially frustrating for parents who've tried "to create special holiday traditions that foster positive emotions like gratitude and altruism—traditions that would bring meaning, connection, and positive memories," says Christine Carter, a sociologist at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center.

"I thought I was going to lose my mind," Carter wrote in an essay published this week on the center's website.

"My daughter was in the back of the car rattling off all the things she wanted for Christmas, excitedly, as though it were a done deal and she would soon be receiving everything she ever hoped for," Carter recalled. "And I was anxiously trying to do damage control: Santa only brings one toy ('Nah-ah, Mom, he brought Ella THREE last year!!'); Santa can’t bring live animals (she passionately wanted a live llama); if your grandparents get you Uggs instead of Payless knock-offs, you won’t get any other presents from them (economic logic lost on a seven-year-old)."

Carter, who writes a blog on parenting for the Greater Good Science Center, explored whether kids and adults alike are "wired to want." She said that getting the gift, or the cookie or the suddenly appealing cashmere sweater, promises immediate gratification with a hit of the powerful neurotransmitter dopamine released in our brains.

"Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t distinguish between rewards that actually will make us happier and the things that won’t," Carter said. But it's possible to help children learn to recognize that advertisers are trying to make kids and their parents buy more and more things, she said.

"So when our kids seem greedy or materialistic at this time of year, it doesn’t mean that we’ve failed to instill good values in them, or that they are spoiled and bratty," Carter said. "It means that they are human, and that they are under the siege of a marketing-induced dopamine rush.

"This is an important lesson for our kids to learn! Here’s how we can help: We can teach them to recognize what makes them want, want, want. We can teach them to realize when they are being manipulated by advertisers."

Carter's full essay can be read here.

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Lorie December 13, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Cancel your cable and do away with "just" using your TV set for rented movies. Television -and advertisers- is very powerful, the only way to fight it off, is to turn it off!
Frank Navarro December 15, 2012 at 03:11 AM
It does help to point out to kids what advertisements are and that they are only there to make them want to buy their product. Once they are aware of this concept it helps to skew them away from wanting a product based on its advertisement. Just remind them that the picture of the totally cool ___________ is there to make them want to buy it. Kids don't like being duped into anything either. Once they realize they are being duped, they are smart enough to drop the desire to need everything they see. Sometimes they need a little reminder.
Belle (Orchid Lady) December 16, 2012 at 07:56 PM
It helps to start with a commercial that is aimed at what mom or dad might want. I don't think they would be especially receptive to the idea while watching a commercial aimed at them. Another good one might be fast food commercials, you can ask them if the commercial made them want the food, and if they were hungry before they saw it?

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