Parents are providing many comforts to their kids these days — technology, cushy bedrooms with flat-screen televisions, cars and trips when they get older. Are we simply providing what other generations before us would have loved to give their offspring — or are we spoiling them into an emotionally numb pre-adult existence?
The answer is important to their lives — and their souls.
My own classmates at Bloomfield Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield, Michigan, were amazed that a fellow student was “rewarded” for good grades with a sporty new car. Granted, his parents could afford to buy him 20 new Mustangs — but what signal were they sending? And more importantly, did this car meet this young man’s deeper needs?
“Objects cannot give you lasting joy. The things that matter most are deeper relationships with people,” said one mother.
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K.C. Gies, a Rye, New York, wife and mother of four children (grade school, high school, and college age), seems to have found a healthy balance for her brood. “Eric and I try to ask our children regularly what their favorite memory is from a recent event, whether it’s from Christmas, a birthday, or our summer vacation. Without exception, their favorite memories always run to experiences. They talk about trips we have gone on as a family, dinners together, visiting friends and family.”
She added, “They never seem to list presents or things that they’ve gotten as part of their favorite memories. It’s a very nice reminder that objects cannot give lasting joy. The things that matter most are deeper relationships with the people who matter most.”
Katelin Haney, from Bethesda, Maryland, is still beginning her journey as a wife and mother of three. She offers this wise perspective: “In a culture full of iPads, iPhones, and apps for door-to-door deliveries, our children are learning the on-demand lifestyle. They seem to want and expect everything right here and right now, and they are learning that immediate gratification is a way of life.”
“I always worry about the moments when no immediate gratification will be able to heal their pain, give them courage, or bring them peace,” she continued. “Only Jesus can do that. This is why we try to encourage them to look for the gifts of Christ each day — finding joy in a beautiful day, laughing with a friend, helping someone who is sad, or learning something new. These moments are the gifts we should live for, not the ones that come in the Amazon box, or that are downloaded on a device.”
I myself am always amazed when I go to El Salvador and Mexico for mission trips: In the midst of abject poverty, I see sincere joy. These children have no running water, barely a roof over their heads, and corn tortillas with beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are no vacations, no Christmas or birthday presents, no cellphones or gadgets — but the smiles on the kids’ faces are bright and brilliant, because they have faith and a strong family unit.
Too many parents today think that by throwing money or expensive possessions or getaways at their kids, they’re making them happy, fulfilled and connected. The truth is, kids don’t need all that. They need good examples, love, faith, and genuine caring and attention. This is what bring deep peace and security to kids.
Let’s rethink the multitude of comforts and invest our time instead in fulfilling experiences and faithful living — for a better “future generation.”
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.