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Give Gifts to Your Teens without Encouraging Materialism

Give Gifts to Your Teens without Encouraging Materialism

Want to make your teen feel loved? Try reading Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages For Teens. This popular five-pronged approach to communicating love includes quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, and receiving gifts. We gave our boys the short survey in the back of the book, and discovered that their primary love language is ... receiving gifts.

My heart sank. I am functionally illiterate when it comes to gift-giving. I hate shopping; I can't stand watching ads; and my specialty when it comes to parental nagging is droning on ad nauseum about the perils of materialism. Thankfully, Chapman tackles the issue of our culture's stuff-idolatry quite well in his chapter on giving and offers guidelines to avoid the trap of materialism. I found myself wondering, though, if Jesus ever gave gifts to his disciples. If so, how, when, why? I gleaned three tips from our Lord's gift-giving that affirmed Chapman's teaching.

Lavish them occasionally with a no-strings-attached present. After a wearisome day of feeding a crowd of people, each of Jesus disciples walked away with a lavish gift-basket. Let's step away from the deeper theological meanings of those leftover bread chunks and think about how the gift of them made those hard-working, loyal guys feel. The disciples weren't working to earn their dinner -- they must have been overwhelmed and delighted by the unexpected meal. As Chapman points out, a true gift is never earned; that's the nature of the beast. For non-gift-givers like me, he offers the following advice:

It might help to ask yourself, "What is the last genuine gift I gave to my teenager?" Once you have the gift in mind, ask yourself, "Did I require anything of my teenager before I gave her the gift?" If so, then mark it off, because it wasn't a genuine gift. Start over and try to find the last gift you gave your teenager. Some parents will find it was last Christmas or the last birthday.

Transform a simple gift into a ceremonial event. During the Last Supper, Jesus had the room ready in advance, took a lot of time to wash his disciples' feet, and reclined and conversed with them at table before actually giving them the gifts of bread and wine. He planned the entire event to resonate with intimacy so that every time they saw the gifts they would feel and remember his love. Chapman writes that "emotional messages are enhanced when attention is given to the ceremony accompanying the gift ... when we diminish the ceremony, we diminish the emotional power of the gift."

Wow them with the surprise factor. Your teens are working hard at school, and sometimes they feel as discouraged and exhausted as the disciples did in John 21:1-13. What a delight it must have been for them to catch sight of a fire flickering on the beach and smell freshly-caught fish cooking. If Jesus used the element of surprise in his gift-giving, why not try it ourselves? Download a song of encouragement and send it as an MP3 attachment to your daughter's email address, leave a cellophane-wrapped basket of fruit and nuts on your son's desk to discover when he trudges upstairs to do his homework, tuck a bag of Hershey's Kisses into her backpack with a love note. Surprising them with creative small gifts in their everyday schedule actually packs more emotional wallop than buying expensive, trendy big-day presents.

As a postscript, I couldn't help noticing that our Lord's gift-giving was strikingly food-and-company-oriented. I found this heartening, as the combo of food and fellowship is the one gift that speaks volumes of love to me. Here are some more resources to help you raise kids to resist the lure of materialism.

  Mitali Perkins is a freelance writer who has lived in Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Great Britain, Mexico, Ghana, Cameroon, and Austria, and has traveled extensively throughout Asia. Her fiction for youth includes Monsoon Summer, and her articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Christian Parenting Today, Discipleship Journal, Prism, U.S. Catholic, Campus Life, and Presbyterians Today. Visit her weblog at and post your comments there.