Now that Black Friday starts at many stores on Thanksgiving night itself, holiday shopping madness is in full swing even before you put away the leftovers. And many of the season's strongest sales pitches are directed right at kids.
If you want to enjoy the holiday on your terms, it'll take a concerted effort to replace holiday marketing messages with your own. Start training yourself and your kids now to think more critically about the rampant consumerism on display during the holidays.
Before Things Get Too Crazy
Be on ad alert. This holiday season, marketers will be using social media, websites, and viral ads to capture your kids' attention and even try to get your kids to do their marketing for them. Kids under 7 can't distinguish between ads and other content, and even older kids can be tricked by ads masquerading as games. Help your kids identify ads by pointing out how they're designed to get your attention and sell you something.
Teach kids to look at ads critically. Shiny trucks, winking dolls -- all made possible by special effects. Help your kids identify the tricks of the trade that make products seem better than they really are.
Break the brand habit. Lego, Nike, Nintendo -- brand names are big in kids' worlds. But they're not always the best. Be on alert for name-brand items on your kids' wish lists. Talk about how companies develop brand loyalty by selling an image. Does the item they want really do what they think it does?
At the Store
Think through tech purchases. From the Nintendo Switch to the latest iPhone, handheld electronics are the hot new toys for kids this year. But many families get talked into expensive products their kids may not want or need. If there's any doubt in your mind, consider giving your kid an IOU for a gadget of their choice (with a price maximum) so you can shop for it together later when the pressure's off (and prices might be lower).
Make use of retailers' "give back" programs. Many retailers-–from Safeway to Macy's-–offer customer-donation programs that turn small donations–-a dollar or two at checkout–-into big amounts for charities. These programs provide a convenient way for you and your kids to help out at the holidays.
Buy books. Publishers release special books around the holidays that often get overshadowed by flashier, pricey presents. But the gift of reading-–from picture books to box sets of popular series--are an ideal way to work reading into your kids' winter vacation. Check out our guides to the best books of 2018 for little kids and for tweens and teens.
Be careful with unboxing videos. YouTube is full of clips of people--both kids and adults--narrating their actions while opening toys, games, electronics, and other kids' products. Unboxing videos can be harmless fun, but they may also whet your kid's appetite for stuff that they didn't even know existed -- especially as these videos ramp up around the holidays. Unboxing videos glorify consumer culture, so take precautions to lesson their influence.
Focus on what matters. Get your kids into the holiday spirit (and override consumerist messages) with homespun fun. Take a trip to see your town's lights and decorations. Plan a totally device-free dinner. Take time to talk about what the holidays mean to your family and why they're special. And try these ideas to cultivate your kids' sense of gratitude.
Play "giving" games. At sites like We Give Books and Free Rice, your kids can actually make a difference in the lives of children around the world just by reading and playing! Also check out our running list of charitable apps and sites.