Child-Rearing in a World of Excess

Protecting children from clear dangers such as pornography, values-free sex education, and innocence-shattering television shows means taking specific, pro-active measures. But there are other, more insidious risks that come from living in a culture of consumerism and excess. They require a different kind of vigilance.

Bill Doherty is the director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota and the author of several books, including Take Back Your Kids: Confident Parenting in Turbulent Times and Soul Searching: Why Psychotherapy Must Promote Moral Responsibility. He's given talks called "Parenting Wisely in a Too Much of Everything World," and sees more and more parents anxious, as he puts it, "to get off the merry-go-round."

When it comes to this issue, Doherty believes there are two major factors at work. One is that we have what he calls "the first psychological generation of parents," who are focused on child psychology and notions of children's self-esteem. While to some degree this can be a good thing, Doherty thinks it can also be unbalancing. The other component is the world of consumerism in which children and parents are immersed. That consumerism, Doherty believes, also breeds a kind of pernicious competitiveness in both kids and adults. Parents feel anxious about whether they're doing enough for their children so that the kids can both compete and feel good about themselves. The pressure can make even well-grounded parents compromise when it comes to values.

Present a Unified Front

The very first conversation that should take place about all this is between the parents, says Doherty. They should be on the same page when it comes to the values they want to instill, and set policies and limitations accordingly. Bearing in mind that excess can mean more than too much stuff, one parent may want to prioritize family time by making dinnertime off limits for children's sports and other activities. The other parent may feel more strongly about holding off on purchasing a smartphone for their kids. Doherty suggests that parents keep talking until they find things on which they can agree, and then enforce those things together.

Put Value in Saying No

Doherty recommends that when saying no to something, parents also articulate the principle—the value—behind the "no." Columnist and author Rebecca Hagelin, in her book 30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family, describes shopping with her then-teenage daughter. Before heading out, the two had discussed the value of modesty and that some clothing is simply inappropriate. They had also agreed that both of them had to like an item before the daughter could buy it. Nonetheless, it was difficult. "Time after time," writes Hagelin, "I had to shake my head and say, 'no.' Which is why tears started to well up in Kristin's beautiful green eyes." They walked out with only two items purchased, but also, says Hagelin, "more determined to fight for our values, a bit more disgusted that there has to be a battle at all, and a lot closer to each other."

Resist Parent Peer Pressure

Parents should keep in mind that it's not just teenagers who feel peer pressure. A case in point is birthday parties. Most parents can likely recount stories of attending elaborate birthday parties where three-year-olds were entertained by paid performers and received more gifts than many people do at their weddings. According to Doherty, such events not only set the stage for embedding a sense of entitlement in kids, they also put pressure on parents to compete. "We learn what the expectations and norms are, and most of us are afraid to fall too far below those norms. We don't want our child to feel bad and we don't want to be seen by others as inadequate parents." So parents should be prepared for such pressure and resist it by setting their own standards and sticking to them. That will serve them well when the focus shifts from preschool birthday parties to spring break vacations in high school.

is the author of the newly-released book, Don’t Let the Culture Raise Your Kids, published by Our Sunday Visitor.  She has been covering family issues for twenty-five years, as a producer for CBS News, a contributor to National Catholic Register, and a Senior Editor for Salvo magazine.  She has written for, First Things, WORLD magazine, and Touchstone.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #31, Winter 2014 Copyright © 2019 Salvo |