The elementary school-aged girls congregated around the birthday girl as she opened her presents, and as soon as she pulled the wrapping paper off a furry animal toy, cheers and squeals erupted from the group.  “Oh, it’s another Webkinz!” one girl exclaimed, jumping up and down.  “Wow – that’s the third one so far!”

I watched my 9-year-old daughter Honor to see her reaction; she was smiling, but not overly excited. Apparently, though, this was a trendy toy, and I wondered why she’d never mentioned it to me before, especially since she’s an animal lover. So I asked her after the party. “Webkinz are cute, Mom,” she replied, “but I don’t really need any because I already have enough stuffed animals.”

Her attitude warmed my heart. Our consumer culture wouldn’t ever stop pressuring her, but at least it didn’t have her in its clutches.

Kids are constantly bombarded with pressure to acquire more and better stuff. Advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year on advertising messages aimed at the youth market, according to a 2001 report from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Advertising and Children. The average U.S. child watches more than 40,000 television commercials per year, the report added. When you factor in ads from other media such as the Internet, magazines, and the radio, the amount of advertising to which kids are exposed is staggering.

It’s also dangerous. A 2004 statement from the American Psychological Association pointed out: “Research shows that children under the age of 8 are unable to critically comprehend televised advertising messages and are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased.  … For children to critically process ads, they must be able to discriminate between commercial and noncommercial content and identify advertising’s persuasive intent.”

Many parents recognize that the consumer culture is negatively impacting their children. A survey by the Center for a New American Dream found in 1999 that 63 percent of parents polled “believed that their children define their self worth in terms of what they own.”

Our consumer culture’s power seems overwhelming, but you can help your kids resist its pressures.  Here are five key messages the consumer culture delivers to your kids – and ways you can overcome those messages with biblical truth:

It warps your kids’ sense of identity by teaching them that they’re winners if they own certain products, but losers if they don’t.  Let your kids know that they don’t have to buy into the culture’s constantly changing notions of what’s desirable in order to be desirable themselves.  Offer them plenty of unconditional love.  Encourage them to dream big, and support them as they pursue those dreams.  Forgive them when they make mistakes, and help them learn from failure and move on with confidence.  Remind them that their true identity is far greater than any they could ever get from the culture.  Help them discover and embrace their identity in Christ, which doesn’t depend on what they do or don’t own.

It robs your kids of the peace God wants them to have by telling them they can’t ever be satisfied with what they have, and urging them to constantly pursue new and better products.  Give your kids opportunities to learn how to be content in all circumstances.  Refrain from buying them something just because they want it and you can afford it.  Instead, ask yourself before every potential purchase: “Why I am considering buying this?”, “Is it really worth it?”, “Does this item reflect our family’s values?” and “Will my kids be better off with or without it?”  Require your kids to work and save money for some products they want.  Encourage your kids to give away toys, clothes, music CDs, and other items they no longer use on a regular basis.

It harms your kids’ relationships by teaching them to value stuff over people.  Show your kids that the type of products they give and receive shouldn’t determine the value of the relationships they have with their friends and family.  Encourage them to give gifts they can afford, with the confidence that people will appreciate the thought more than the amount of money spent.  Discourage well-meaning people like grandparents from overindulging your kids so it doesn’t appear that they’re trying to buy your kids’ love.  Urge your kids to express the same level of gratitude to everyone who gives them something – no matter how expensive the gift. When giving your kids presents yourself, either give an experience (such as a sailing trip) instead of a product (like a video game), or make sure that whatever product you do give can be used to enhance a relationship your kids have with someone (such as giving sports equipment they can use when playing with their friends, or giving art supplies they can use to create artwork with you when you each have some free time to spend together).

It deadens your kids’ creativity by dictating what type of products they should use and how they should use them.  Help your kids develop critical thinking skills so they can decide for themselves what they really want – and clearly understand why they want it.  Work with your kids to discover their God-given interests, natural talents, and spiritual gifts.  Give them plenty of opportunities to pursue their own interests and put their talents and gifts to use.  Notice and affirm them when they express original ideas.  Ask your kids to consider making some products they’d enjoy rather than just buying them.  Whenever you encounter a marketing gimmick built around a pop culture character (such as a toy that ties into a current movie), discuss why it’s important to buy a toy for its features instead of just its image.  Don’t allow your kids to have TVs or computers in their bedrooms, where they can watch and surf without your knowledge.  Engage with them regularly by discussing the media they’ve encountered lately and talking together about the messages that media has communicated to them – and how those messages stack up against biblical truth.

It lulls your kids into being passive consumers instead of active contributors by teaching them that what matters most is what they can receive instead of how they can serve.  Help your kids learn to be generous by following your own example.  Give money regularly to support the work of your church, charities, and other worthy causes.  Let your kids know how much you give, and why you choose to support the organizations you’ve chosen.  Choose some service projects that your whole family can work on together.  Encourage your kids to incorporate service to others as a regular part of their lives.