I’m With the Pope

Before I became a parent, I had dinner with some co-workers whose children I found admirable. When I asked, “What’s your formula for success in raising kind, engaged, intelligent children?”
They responded, “They watched no TV.”

Oh. Bummer.

I intended to teach limits, not be a TV Nazi.

But they went on, “They watched plenty of DVDs. They just didn’t watch commercial television, so we avoided ads for buying toys and candy.”

Smart. Very smart.

I’m reminded of this every time my son goes down a rabbit hole of acquisition requests: “Daddy? Can I get a little ‘Scruff’ [a friend of Thomas] for my birthday and a ‘Glitter Glider Sleeping Beauty’ for my birthday and a ‘Zoe Zebra’ stuffed animal for my birthday and a racetrack for my birthday and four pink donuts for my birthday and the ‘Jasmine’ princess movie [Aladdin] and ‘surprise eggs’ for my birthday?”

Thank goodness he’s accepted the “maybe for you birthday” mantra and doesn’t scream, “NO! I WANT IT NOW!”

But still.

He will go on and on and on about what he wants.

I blame YouTube.

For the last year, Ellison has navigated their app on the iPad with freakish dexterity. What started as watching episodes of “Thomas the Train,” became home videos of spoiled children opening packages (thanks to the “Suggestions” column).

In some hilarious cases, the complacent kids mutter, “Oh. A new princess,” or “Oh. A new train,” like an over-it Honey Boo-Boo.

These genius product-placement videos are manipulated by Hasbro and Mattel. The companies send new toys to these kids with large YouTube followings and it’s virtually-free advertising.

It’s worked on my kid. He sees other kids opening presents and he wants more, more, more.

This really pissed me off at Christmas. Ellison didn’t understand virgin birth, but did understand demanding presents.

And my issue met new validation by the Pope, this last week.


Yeah, I’m not Catholic and I scoff at 19th century values espoused from this world leader’s bully pulpit. And Pope Francis is still fighting the gays (though with some evolution on the matter…pun definitely not intended).

But more important, Pope Francis’ encyclical about the environment is revolutionary. He took tree-hugging stewardship a step further than “please recycle” by blaming capitalism and consumption for man-made climate change.

He applied environmental morality to economics.

This is unheard of outside of a university philosophy department (I totally took that class in Boulder). And world leaders don’t touch morality with a ten-foot pole because they’re all pawns of businessmen. (I totally stirred that liberal Kool-Aid in Boulder.)

(No surprise, he didn’t address over-population, something for which Catholic leaders would be kicked out of their club. Further, he questions market manipulation of carbon credits…which is stupid.)

To my unscientific mind, no other global leader has told us “stop buying so much shit!” Such a reasonable prescription for saving the world would be political suicide. Money in pockets trump slowing climate change.

But imagine: if we watched less YouTube product-placement videos and reduced the crap we buy, we’d save on packaging, burning fuel, deforestation, mining precious metals, drilling for oil.

Not to mention, parents and kids might find happiness in something other than buying new bling. We might read a few more library books, cultivate imaginations, and spend more quality time together. (OMG. I’m sounding so conservative.)

I’m hesitant about any Pope, but this move?- this strong statement beseeching us to save ourselves from soulless capitalism? – this is visionary and revolutionary.

Do I think this will change anything, short-term? Absolutely not.

Am I adopting an ascetic limit to 100 personal possessions? Hell-to-the-no.

But I’m inspired by a world leader speaking a truth no other world leader will mention.

Good for Pope Francis.

I’m going to be more cognizant of buying crap.

And YouTube is no longer an option on our iPad. (Conveniently, YouTube’s progeny, KidsFlix, has annoying kids’ programming but without insidious advertisements selling crap.)

Avoiding commercial TV is tough.

But the Pope’s words are tougher.

My kids are stuck with tougher.

How do you avoid endless buying of crap? Any suggestions to save the world á la Pope F?


  1. Oh, it’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? For us – we taught our kids that things have a cost – they take up space, getting one thing means you can’t get something else, how much will you use the thing, what is the cost to get rid of the thing? 3-4 times a year, I make them give stuff away – 1) right before their birthday, 2) before Christmas, 3) when they can’t even find what they have. I have them go to the Goodwill with me as well to see where it goes. Also – we’ve started our oldest on an allowance and if she wants something, we make her find out if she has enough in her wallet. We’ve started with them that the “nice to haves” will be theirs only if they pay for it with a few exceptions – 1) their birthday, 2) Christmas, 3) if we tell them we will buy something for them in advance. Now we need the grandparents on board. 😉

    Also – we taught them that money has a cost too – time. Very few people have both. I teach them that if they want all of this stuff, I keep working, dad keeps working, that’s less time together. I teach them that we took jobs with less travel and better hours to spend more time with them but we also had to give up a lot of salary dollars. Most adults can’t really figure out that the money they spend means more hours at work. If I can get to it early with them, it will help. How did I learn it? We literally didn’t have the money. My mom was a single parent by the time I was 4 and I learned that we couldn’t buy Hostess Ding-Dongs or Doritos that week because we couldn’t afford it.

    We also planted a garden. They’ve been to the Elizabeth meat locker with us. They know we’re eating those cows. You waste less food when you know how hard it is to come buy or that something living isn’t anymore so you could eat.

    Finally, if they buy it. If they see money coming out of their piggy bank or their wallet – they spend it better. It gives them ownership, not just stewardship. Ownership changes everything.

    But – this whole concept is a Catch-22 in the U.S. I’ve seen over a dozen economists in my time at conferences. Each says the same thing – the U.S. economy is 70-80% consumer driven. If we stop buying, it will have huge consequences. We’ve built a house of cards.


  2. Getting rid of stuff when you buy new stuff is key. My husband is much better at it than I am. He has a pretty strict “one shirt in-one shirt out” policy. When we moved in together we had a massive garage sale to get rid of our overlap/extra stuff. Eight spatulas, nine pie trays, etc. Sitting in the driveway staring at all this crap that was once new stuff, made me look at purchases in a totally different way. Now when I’m in a store and see something new and shiny on a shelf, I ask myself if this is just going to end up “crap” in the driveway in five years. (This is really helpful in Sur la Table.)


    • So smart…especially when trying to resist Sur La Table. I mean, don’t we KINDA need everything in that store? One item in and one item out is a great idea. Good lesson to instill in kiddos, too, I bet.


    • So so so smart. Passing on a toy when you receive one is a great idea, and helps reinforce the idea of generosity and reducing clutter. Thanks for triggering ideas, here, Ray. Thanks for sharing!


  3. I am also happy about the Pope’s saying environmental conservation and less materialism are both a moral duty. And I am pleased about your commending of his stance.
    [Some Catholics may find your nicknames for this moral leader a bit disrespectful. I found it refreshing, but . . . . ]


  4. I am at home with my mum this summer. she has an addiction to purchasing stuff. I am surrounded by stuff. I’ve even come to the conclusion that there actually may be a limit on books (maybe). I hate shopping and spending money. The boys picked up on that, but they also realised how important a budget is. Something that is still hard for my spouse and I. My 21 year old (he still is at home, pays a small rent, pays for insurance, and those groceries I will NOT buy-Pringles) sat at the table one night doing his monthly budget, yelling at Dave Ramsey. I just laughed and was grateful. However, he does need to think about buying new work jeans instead of things he wants to buy. He’s lucky he’s single!!!


    • Money management skills are some of the most important lesson to be taught. And I guess that can begin with over-consumption for little kids AND big kids, eh? Thanks for sharing, Kris!


  5. Admittedly, my boys have always gotten a lot of stuff although not as much as many of their friends. However. I find that teaching the “right” values causes them to keep their possessions in perspective. Kids are always going to want more stuff, but as they get older they will begin to understand the limits. My 11-year-old has to wait for his “big” gifts, but he knows we’ll make sure he isn’t deprived. Your boys are so young; at this age they think they want everything. I think part of it is healthy curiosity. Just keep going the way you are & they will grow past it. 😊


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