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‘Dad, can I buy this?’ (3 things to teach your kids about shopping)

‘Dad, can I buy this?’ (3 things to teach your kids about greed and shopping)

I was getting a haircut at the local budget salon a few months back when my 9-year-old son – who had just received his own trim – started growing restless.

“Dad, can I have your phone?”

Normally the answer is “no,” but his choice of magazines in the waiting area was too adult-oriented, and, besides, there are a few educational apps on my phone that he enjoys.

The rest of our trip to the salon was uneventful – he kindly grabbed a few suckers for his siblings and we ate a snack on the way home — but later that evening, after he went to bed, I discovered an unwelcome surprise in my email.

“Thank-you for shopping with us!” the email, from Amazon.com, read. “We’ll send a confirmation when your item ships.”

Umm, what item?

The LEGO Star Wars Millennium Falcon, of course. The expensive one with 1,329 pieces, ready to assemble. The one with Rey, Finn, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Even BB-8!

I didn’t share Amazon’s excitement, though, and I hadn’t ordered any LEGO toys.

My son had browsed through the Amazon app on my phone and then clicked the “buy” button, perhaps thinking Amazon could ship the Millennium Falcon and the UPS guy could drop it down the chimney at night — all without mom and dad knowing.

But I wasn’t angry. My son knows very little about money. Or banks. Or bills. Or paychecks. Or taxes. To him, clicking an Amazon button is no different than pressing a button on Angry Birds and demolishing a few green pigs. It’s virtually magic!

Besides, my son had faced the same temptation that all of us face in the era of Amazon, eBay and cheap two-day shipping face: Impulse buying. Sure, impulse buying existed 20 years ago, but back then we had to do this weird thing called “driving to the store.” Today, we just open a laptop or an app.

Think about it: Simply by moving his thumb a few millimeters on a smartphone, he finally could have that $127.63 LEGO toy he always had wanted. And without even going to Walmart!

Thankfully, I caught the error before it had had shipped, which allowed me to cancel it about as quickly as it was purchased.

Still, I needed to have a talk with my son about God’s perspective on possessions. Those lessons will apply when he’s in a store and asks me, “Dad, can I buy this?,” as well as those times as an adult when he’s shopping online and asking himself, “Should I buy this?”

Yes, it is possible in our modern-day and temptation-riddled society to have kids who can resist the draw of materialism.

Whenever my son and his siblings are wanting to buy something impulsively, I try to:

1. Teach patience. And ask: Can you wait a day? The Walmarts and Amazons of the world want us to think there’s a limited supply of everything. Buy now before it’s all gone! Or, they tell us it’s a one-day sale. These prices won’t last long! Here’s what I’ve discovered: If you wait a day – or even a week or month – then you may discover that you no longer want it. Patience, of course, is one of the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). I recently asked my son to postpone a potential purchase. You know what? He forgot all about it.

2. Teach contentment. And ask: How many toys do you already have? This lesson applies to adults, too. Consider: How many shoes or books or tools or blouses or DVDs or kitchen appliances or electronic gadgets do you already have? God wants us to enjoy the possessions He has given us, but we can do that only if we are “content in all circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). A few months ago, my son wanted to purchase a rubber snake – even though he had half a dozen back home. Thankfully, he made the right choice on that one.

3. Teach joy. And ask: Do you truly think it will make you happy? Our constant craving for more “stuff” in life is a constant reminder that “stuff” doesn’t satisfy. To paraphrase Pascal (and Plumb, too), we’re frantically trying to fill a God-shaped hole that only God can fill. I sometimes ask my son: “How long do you think that toy will make you happy?” And then: “How long did the last toy make you happy?” That has led to some surprisingly honest answers. “Maybe a day or day,” he will respond.

I haven’t had any surprises in my Amazon account since that trip to the salon, although my son still does struggle, from time to time, with the desire to buy something on a whim. But that’s OK. Dad struggles, too.

Michael Foust.

Foust is the father of four small children. Follow him on Twitter or on his website, MichaelFoust.com.

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