As the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, I’ve spent decades working with parents and educating students from underserved communities. I am also a mom to three kids.
Too often, I see parents putting so much energy into teaching their kids to act responsibly, clean their room, or do their homework. All of that is important, but there’s one thing that many of us are completely forgetting about: how to enjoy life.
Sure, that seems like one thing kids do naturally. But many happy children grow up to be unhappy adults. There’s a difference between enjoying life as a young child and being prepared to enjoy life as an adult.
In my experience, people are happiest when their life includes some type of meaningful, productive activity. Unfortunately, we are constantly being bombarded with the message that happiness comes from consumption.
When advertisers tell us to “treat” ourselves to their products, they are trying to make us believe that buying things is the ultimate reward, that we will be happy only if we buy a fancier car or a bigger house.
How do you fight back? Don’t make it a habit to take your children to stores where they can go running around saying “I want this” and “I want that.”
Even if your child isn’t directly exposed to a lot of advertising, they may be exposed to the culture that this advertising has created. Their friend shows them some incredible new toy they got that the friend will play with for the next week until they get another toy, for example, or they attend a birthday party at which a friend is showered with gifts.
Don’t encourage your child to believe that having things brings happiness by giving them too many gifts.
The concept that you express your love for somebody by giving them a gift is a nice idea that once worked pretty well, but many kids get so much stuff nowadays that it quickly becomes overkill.
As for your own birthday, use it as an opportunity to reinforce your values. My husband Eric discourages gifts for his birthday and instead asks that our kids share with him a memory of something they enjoyed doing as a family.
You can also help your children figure out gifts for your spouse that will be meaningful, like a handmade card, a home-baked cake or reciting a poem.
Children need to understand that while money can give them the opportunity to be happy, they can’t consume their way to happiness.
Play games with your kids to demonstrate how much fun can be had with a simple deck of cards. Make a treehouse or bake a cake with them to show the pleasure of a productive activity. Go to a museum to show them the pleasure of an intellectual activity.
If you can teach your children about the value of these little things, their chances of happiness will increase immeasurably when they’re older.
Eva Moskowitz is the CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools and author of “A+ Parenting: The Surprisingly Fun Guide to Raising Surprisingly Smart Kids.” She has testified before Congress about education and economics, and has worked with political leaders of both parties — from presidents and governors to mayors and state legislators — to advocate for children’s educational futures. Follow her on Instagram and LinkedIn.
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Adapted from A+ Parenting by Eva Moscowitz, with Eric Grannis. Copyright © 2023 by Eva Moscowitz. Reprinted by permission of Harvest/William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.