Teaching Kids Gratefulness in an Ungrateful Society

11/21/2013 05:14 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

As we approach Black Friday and that seemingly insignificant day that just happens to fall before it, I find myself sickened at the greedy consumerism that has taken over our society. It pains me that our children are growing up with this as their "norm." When we were children, it was understood that you shouldn't even call your friends on Thanksgiving day because it was a FAMILY day. Thanksgiving was a day of gratefulness, not a day of greed to go out and buy more and more stuff.

How can we teach our kids about greed in a society that thrives on it?

For the past week, our children have been writing and rewriting their Christmas lists. And these lists no longer look like this:


Those were the good ol' days.

My 13-year-old son texted me his list yesterday and it was written out with prices and the best places to purchase the items. He even included disclaimers warning me about people who sell fakes online. The first three items on his list totaled $640. Yes, just the first three items. I proceeded to tell him that he was crazy to think he would get all of that and his response was, "Why not?"

This is coming from a child who has a full Christmas at his mom's and a full Christmas at his dad's each year. Not to mention Christmas with four sets of Grandparents.

This is how that went down:


As you can tell from the text exchange, he always knows the right thing to say. If there is one thing I have always done, it is teach my children manners. While it's clear that they know the right way to behave in social situations and they know how to speak to adults, my fear is that while I have taught them to use well-mannered speech, I have not actually cultivated the attitude behind those actions. I am seeing lately that my son knows how to "put on his best manners" when necessary, but he doesn't do it because it feels good in his heart to make others feel good.

As a matter of fact, life is usually made much more miserable for everyone when he feels like we are insisting on him using his manners. Then after I lose my temper, he knows exactly what to say to placate me once more -- apologies and promises for better behavior. He uses his "manners" to get what he wants.

So our goal now is to cultivate the attitude of gratefulness, because when kids are grateful, they learn that it feels good to serve others. They learn to be positive in their interactions with others. They turn into respectful and serving adults.

We have implemented a new allowance system in our home. Our hope in this system will teach the kids a sense of ownership. We have told the kids that we will give them allowance, but they are expected to be respectful and do what we ask of them around the house. This includes taking the trash out, filling the dishwasher, putting clothes away, cleaning their bathroom, using their manners, etc. Considering they have not been getting allowance, you would think they would be grateful... but there is a catch.

They don't get free decision-making authority on all of their allowance. Both boys get $15 a week and the girls get $10 a week, but 10 percent goes to a charity of their choice and 40 percent goes directly in the bank. So they only actually receive 50 percent of their allowance in hand each week. They are only allowed to spend 30 percent of their allowance as "blow money" -- buying candy and small items. The last 20 percent must be saved to purchase a "big ticket" item (something over $40). They can save their blow money with their big ticket money to get to their goal faster.

As my son said last week, "I am glad to be getting allowance, but I don't like the way my money is being managed." Yeah, he said that.

So how do we get them to truly understand the difference between needs and wants? How can we get them to give 10 percent of their allowance to charity with a loving heart? How can we eliminate the greediness that they have learned in our society where everything is expected and every day is a "ME DAY?"

We must not only teach our children manners, but we must teach them the reason behind having good manners. We must stop worrying so much about our children's comfort and start focusing on building their character. I am hoping that once they have enough money in their "give" allowance to physically give it away, then they can feel the warmness in their hearts by serving others.

Until this process can be successful, we must remove any bitterness we may have in our own hearts so that we can model gratefulness in everything we do. If they see us spending our time on them rather than our money or if they see us showing appreciation for life's simple pleasures (a sunset, good health, a good meal) then maybe our gratefulness will wash over them. If they see us complaining all the time and wishing for more than we have, then they will model what they see.

My favorite saying is "A happy heart makes a face cheerful," Proverbs 15:13. That is our goal with our kids. We don't want them to just be well-mannered and respectful because we say so. We want them to be well-mannered and respectful because they have a happy, serving and grateful heart behind it.

Our success as parents will be measured by THAT... not by how much stuff we buy on Black Friday to give to ungrateful, self-serving children.