Every year, parents and family members rack their brains to try and come up with the best gifts to give to their kids. While this reality has been around for decades now, kids today represent a tougher population to impress. They probably already have most gadgets or devices they need—and we frequently leave them to their own “devices” in more ways than one. Parents give more electronic or digital presents at holiday time, chiefly because most kids prefer them. In response, kids promptly leave the family context, to isolate themselves with those devices.
So, are those really the best gifts for our young?
The American Academy of Pediatrics just released an updated clinical report with recommendations on the best “toys” for children’s development; toys that foster play between adults and children. The report clearly reveals that we must promote:
- Interaction between people face to face, not on a screen.
- Relationship deepened between caregivers and kids.
- Hands on toys instead of screens to cultivate skills and development.
“Toys have evolved over the years, and advertisements may leave parents with the impression that toys with a ‘virtual’ or digital-based platform are more educational,” pediatrician Dr. Aleeya Healey, lead author of the report, says. “Research tells us that the best toys need not be flashy or expensive or come with an app. Simple, in this case, really is better.”
There’s no doubt toys can be key to developing children’s brains, problem-solving, social interactions, language and physical activity. So we do well to give kids gifts that position them in relationship with others, make them think and interact as well as get them moving physically. Hmm. That sounds wise to me.
But what about when they grow into adolescence?
The desire for digital devices often increases, as tweens become teens. Adolescents tend to love anything that allows them to spend time on a screen especially if it enables them to interact with peers. The holiday activities that used to be fun for them are now too cheesy. Often, they’re “too cool for school.” Time with family, while they may value it deep down, just doesn’t fit their style now. It’s boring.
So they further distance themselves from adults.
What Are the Best Gifts They Can Receive?
Let me suggest some common sense ideas that will foster both healthy growth and fun engagement for the kids in your family or classroom.
1. Gifts That Cultivate Ownership.
Anything you can do to enable kids to take ownership of something over the holidays is a good thing. Recently, Brooke Best, a mother of two, listened to her son complain about a local law forbidding snowball fights in Severance, Colorado. Her 9-year old, Dane, felt it was an outdated law and believed that throwing snowballs was part of the fun of winter. She encouraged him to do something about it. So he did. Dane began writing letters with his classmates in support of overturning the ban. Then, at Monday town hall meeting Dane presented his arguments to the board and got a unanimous vote to overturn the law. Brooke saw this endeavor fully engage her son, and recognizes this is the kind of activity kids need today. Why not help kids overcome boredom by inviting them to take on a problem or project and “own” it?
2. Gifts That Cultivate Relationship.
As I mention above, too many gifts we give to young people isolate them on an app or a screen. This time of year is the perfect time to create an environment that pulls people together instead of separating them by age groups. Like many families, my wife and I purchase a couple of puzzles in December for all of us to work on over the holiday break. At any moment, if we’re not eating together (which is another perfect time to connect with others) a few of us will be putting the puzzle together, talking about anything that comes to mind. I’ve found we can spark conversation and laughter by introducing topics based on movie titles. For example, at Growing Leaders, we plan to award team members for stories of their experiences over this past year:
- The Animal House Award – for the most hilarious moment of 2018
- Mission Impossible Award – for the most challenging situation of 2018
- Nightmare on Elm Street Award – for the scariest experience of 2018
- It’s a Wonderful Life Award – for the most heartwarming event in 2018
- Dumb and Dumber Award – for the biggest blunder or blooper of 2018
- Remember the Titans Award – for the best example of teamwork in 2018.
3. Gifts That Cultivate Resourcefulness.
Finally, I have found that gift giving can be life changing for young people when it cultivates both generosity and resourcefulness. So, work with your kids (regardless of age) on how to give the most generous and appropriate gifts with the few resources they have. For example, if your teen only has $80 to spend on everyone, sit down and creatively brainstorm how they can stretch that money into five great gifts, purchased at discount stores or even on eBay. At first, this may feel like a “downer” to them, especially if they love name brand stores or websites. However, this small act of ingenuity can actually become a fun internal challenge, to get the best deal on the best gift for the sibling or aunt on their list. In fact, this “contest” with themselves can become fun if they get a job over the holiday and work to make as much money as possible, then find a way to make the most of it.
These internal qualities—ownership, relationship and resourcefulness can make a season of celebration a season of growth as well.
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Specials ends: Sunday, December 23rd at midnight.