My daughter Sofia is turning 6 years old this summer and when I asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday, she said, “I don’t want to have a party. I just want a cell phone.”
I was dumbfounded because I don’t understand why she needs a cell phone. Who would a 6-year-old be calling or texting? How did she go from last year’s princess ice cream party to a cell phone for her birthday?
I quickly offered up other options, but she was quick to defend her request by asking, “If my friends have one, why can’t I have one?”
Ahhh – ding ding ding. There it was! My daughter was already “keeping up with the Joneses.” I almost couldn’t believe it.
I also noted that this became part of a trend in Sofia. She wanted to copy what her friends were doing. It went from, “I want a cell phone,” to, “I want the same water bottle as Isabella,” and, “I want to eat whatever Stella is eating,” even though she didn’t like Stella’s food choice.
I’m sad to say that I could relate to Sofia. In middle school, I wanted to wear a preppy plaid flannel shirt around my jeans, just like my friend Kristiana. I even asked my mom to buy a pair of Dr. Martens boots, just like my friend Amanda wore.
We have all been there at some point, desiring material things that make us feel valued or help us fit in. We might feel like this is too tough for young children to understand, but it is an opportunity for us to help our children learn about who they are as individuals and what’s really important.
This can really be an uphill battle for parents because studies show that kids are typically exposed to 360,000 ads by the time they graduate from high school. Additional research claims kids in the U.S. spend more money every year than half a billion of the world’s poorest earn in income.
I’m pretty good at sticking to my word when it comes to teaching my kids good life lessons, so when Sofia asked for the phone, I thought it could be a perfect opportunity to start planting a seed in her little mind and heart about how material things don’t determine our worth.
As a family, we started spending our time and placing value on people instead of things. You can do this with kids of almost any age, teaching them to appreciate what they have and to think more of others than of themselves.
Volunteering is a great way to demonstrate the concept of giving back. Ask your child to put aside clothing he or she has outgrown and deliver it with you to a homeless shelter for families. Take the whole family to community walks to raise awareness for a good cause. Instead of giving things, try giving time or inexpensive experiences such as going on a picnic, to the movies or on a family hike as gifts.
I have found it’s important to surround your kids all year long with opportunities such as these to really develop their awareness and concept of value and appreciation. As parents, we must come to the realization that our children grow up fast and their requests will challenge us. But while they are still young, there is still time to shape their hearts and minds.
Check out ways to volunteer as a family on nbcla.com/community under “I Am A Volunteer.”
Daniella Guzman is the anchor on NBC4 Southern California’s “Today in LA” weekday morning newscast, 4:30-7 a.m. A mother of two, Daniella’s column, “On the Record,” brings her views on parenting, fun family activities and her take on work-life balance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @daniellanbcla.