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New Jersey Star-Ledger: There Are Some Things Money Just Can't Buy

February 14, 2012

By Carmen Juri. This article originally appeared in the New Jersey Star-Ledger on February 14, 2012.

Money may not buy love, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.

The average person planned to spend $126.03 this year celebrating Valentine’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation, with $25.25 being spent on their children.

While gift-giving is a display of love, some are urging parents to teach their children how to express love in nonmonetary ways.

“An undercurrent of American society is desperately looking for these kinds of things,” says Lisa Mastny of the Center for New American Dream, which provides resources for families on how to deal with overconsumption. “Even since we started in the early ’90s, the rise in advertising to children and the pressures from TV has exponentially increased.”

Interestingly, children crave something besides another trinket.

When the group asked children what they really wanted, the majority did not mention material objects, Mastny says. Instead, they drew a picture of the family being together.

“They said things like, ‘I want Daddy to be around more often.’ It’s really powerful,” Mastny says. “It’s really kind of touching, kind of sad. It makes you think, ‘Sure they want things.’ But really if you ask them what they really value, it’s family and parents and the love they’re getting around them.”

When companies are trying to find any outlet they can to promote and market more products and brand them, the association between Valentine’s Day and buying creeps into people’s consciousness, Mastny says.

“You see it with Thanksgiving. It used to be about food. Now, there’s decorations,” she says.

So how do you shift the focus back to love?

“Trying to explain such an enormous concept is almost impossible, but if you create experiences in which children get to put aspects of love into action, then they truly understand the meaning of love on a deeper level,” says Margaret Hyde, author of the “Mo’s Nose Series” of books, a series of children’s books based on Mo the dog, who experiences the world through his nose.

Hyde offers these Valentine’s activities that may help kids truly connect with a deeper meaning of love:

• One way for children to show their gratitude in the community is to help them bake their favorite treat. Then, take your child to your local fire station and deliver it to the firefighters with a card that says how grateful they are for their service. “Most fire stations are thrilled to have children visit and love getting home baked treats,” she says.

• As your child is making or picking out Valentine’s Day cards for friends or family, have them create a dozen extra cards with kind messages. Find a home for seniors in your area. Ask if you and your child can come by and deliver some valentines to the residents.

• Do a post-holiday toy and book clean out. Help your child go through his or her old books and toys. Then let them choose an organization to give them to, such as those that help homeless families or literacy programs that give children books.

Mastny, who said newdream.org offers tips for parenting in a commercial culture, said simply designating a game night, eating dinner together more often, telling stories or going through photo albums are ways families can show they appreciate one another.

“Show them that you respect them and are listening,” she says. “You hear about people who have gone from two to one-parent jobs and it actually had benefits for the family. Maybe there is less money, but if you can meet the basic needs, kids actually appreciate that Mommy or Daddy is home now.”

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