I knew we were in trouble the year my son turned 7. As his birthday party drew closer, I could feel my panic level rising. Phone calls from family and friends only made matters worse. They all asked the same question: "What can we get Luke for his birthday?" Seems like a simple question, but I honestly couldn't think of a single thing he wanted or needed. His bedroom already looked like a Toys R Us warehouse, and even he couldn't come up with any substantial ideas for his birthday list.
If you've paid any attention to the kids at the mall lately, you know what I'm talking about. Today's kids are really into stuff. Targeted by multi-million dollar marketing campaigns, kids are blasted from every angle with the same message: Buy more, spend more, have more. According to Lois Morton, author of a series of Cornell University publications called Kids in the Marketplace, American children ages 4 to 12 spend some $9 billion annually and influence their parents to spend $130 billion; teens spend another $95 billion annually. Games, toys, CD players, clothes, skateboards, computers—you name it, they've got it.
Thanks to the economic boom of recent years, today's families are making more money than ever before. And while we may not all be living in six-bedroom homes or driving luxury cars, we can afford to pamper and indulge our children more than any previous generation. Even if we don't indulge our own kids, grandparents and other well-meaning relatives are often more than willing to do it for us. But the nagging questions remain: How can we teach our children the difference between wants and needs when there is literally nothing they need that they don't already have? Is it possible to raise well-adjusted, godly children when they are surrounded by this sort of affluence and materialism?
"There's no doubt that kids are affected by materialism," says Julie Miller, a school social worker and the mother of two. "It seems to really hit them about fourth grade. That's when they start to notice the differences in who has what. It's mostly in the clothes; kids are really into what other kids are wearing and the brand names. This is also the age they start talking about the future, about the fancy cars they're going to drive and the big houses they're going to have."
Psychologists use the term affluenza to describe the unique set of problems that are created when children grow up in a wealthy society. Some believe the epidemic is downright dangerous because this generation has not learned to work hard, to save money, or to wait to get the things they want. "I want what I want when I want it," seems to be the mantra among many young people today. And Christians are not immune.