How to keep those seasonal 'I want' demands from youngsters in line



Now that holiday shopping has begun in earnest, a reader asked for help dealing with "the gimmes" her children are prone to ask for this time of year. I asked Allison Pugh, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and author of the coming book L onging and Belonging: Parents, Children, and Consumer Culture, to respond.

"Different kinds of 'gimmes' ... really take a different kind of parenting strategy to handle successfully," she wrote back. "A sustained 'no' campaign will work. If parents found it that simple, then they would not be asking for advice."

"The first step to handling [an advertising-driven] 'gimme' is to close down" that approach, she wrote. "That means try to reduce kids' exposure to marketing techniques, enforce some of those house rules limiting television and Internet time, and try and get the catalogs into the recycling bin before the children get to them.

"Another kind of 'gimme' involves the things - the toys, games, movies and the like - that kids think they have to have to be 'normal' when they are with other kids. It is not that children are trying to be better than their peers - more often they just want to belong to their social group. Kids want to be visible in their worlds, and to do so they have to be able to participate in the conversation at school or in the neighborhood, the conversation about what kind of lunch box they have or have they seen the latest movie or played that Wii game.

"Many of the most urgent, persistent 'gimmes' stem from children's desire to be able to join in when a certain topic of conversation comes up, and parents seem to find these kind of requests - for belonging, for social citizenship, for being 'the same as my friends' - the most difficult to withstand."

In the short term, Pugh recommended that parents try to find items that carry "the most social bang for the buck," and restrict purchases to those. They can also work with other parents to cut down on certain purchases and practices, like goody bags at parties.

But in the long term, Pugh wrote, "parents' best shot is to try to [make] ... difference not quite so scary. If parents take steps to celebrate difference, in themselves, in the family, among friends, in schools, children may see that they can belong in their social world even if they are different."

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