Raising children who are intentional in their consumer choices in an age of excess is a challenge. But it’s also an opportunity to guide them towards a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.
Our goal as parents is to raise our kids to be the best versions of themselves as they can possibly be. And overcoming culture’s pull toward excessive consumerism is certainly one of those steps.
It’s not the only one, but it’s an important one.
When our children become adults, having both a clear sense of their potential AND how to achieve it, is a goal worth investing into.
Our decision to live with less has not only transformed my life and my family’s, it has offered my wife and I helpful thoughts on how to raise children to see the benefit of minimalism. Our kids were 5 and 2 when we first discovered minimalism, now they are 21 and 17.
I’ve certainly not done everything right. But I’ve tried my hardest. And I’ve learned quite a few lessons over the years about raising kids in a consumerist world in a way that keeps them from giving into it.
Here are ten of the most important lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1. Lead by Example with Minimalism
There is no aspect of parenting that doesn’t start here. If there are any traits or values you wish to pass on to your children, they must see them in your life.
Actions speak louder than words and embracing minimalism in your own life is the most powerful step you can take. Show your children the joy and fulfillment that comes from a life of only owning what you need.
2. Communicate the Benefits of Owning Less
Regularly share with your kids why you choose to live the way you do. This is true for all facets of life, but especially with a counter-cultural lifestyle like minimalism.
Articulate the benefits of owning less—when they are young and when they are older. Don’t assume they see everything you see. When owning less allows you to do something or accomplish something, point it out and help them see the direct connection between owning less and living more.
3. Limit Your (and Their) Screen Time
Television and internet are not just distractions; they are platforms for consumerist propaganda. I know that’s a loaded word, but it’s absolutely true.
The economics of television, the Internet, even radio and newspapers these days, requires commercialization. Advertiser dollars are spent on those platforms not because they are hoping to convince you to buy, dollars are spent because they know they can convince you to buy.
So limit your screen time intentionally as the parent. Not only will it provide you an opportunity to speak to them about theirs, but you’ll raise children with greater interests than television along the way.
4. Teach Financial Responsibility
Talk early and often about personal finance principles and responsibility. I was a proud dad the first time my daughter took an Economics Test in High School and came home to tell me, “It was pretty easy. I feel like it was all stuff we’ve talked about at dinner before.”
From an early age and on into their teenage years, teach your kids to earn and save for their own stuff. This instills a sense of ownership and an understanding of the value of money and effort. It also means giving them the freedom to make their own choices with their money. But that brings me to #5.
5. Allow Freedom and Independence to Make Mistakes
Madeline Levine put it this way, “When we shield children from failure or choreograph success for them, we’re distorting the experiences they need in order to grow.” It’s one of the hardest parts of parenting: Allowing kids to make mistakes.
Now certainly, as parents, one of our roles is to teach our children wisdom and sometimes that means helping to steer their decision-making process. But allowing kids to make their own decisions (and some mistakes along the way because of it) is one of the most powerful ways they will learn wisdom.
As your kids get older, even while under your roof (or should I say especially when they are under your roof), allowing them to make their own decisions about smaller amounts of money will help them learn wise personal finance principles in the future.
As a bonus, watching how your children choose to spend their money while they still live at home is a valuable snapshot into their personality and provides opportunity to speak into it while you still see them every day.
6. Volunteer as a Family
Be active offering your time in the community through a local food bank, church, soup kitchen, or community organization that serves the underprivileged in your area. Serve somewhere, and often.
When we serve others, we become more aware of their needs. We begin to better understand our own potential and capabilities. And we learn the joy and fulfillment that comes from living a selfless life.
7. Find Mentors and Role Models
Social media is going to champion those with the most. But in everyday life, those who have the biggest impact on our lives are rarely the most wealthy among us. Instead, they are the ones who show love and kindness, humility and integrity.
The older our kids get, the more important these relationships become. Find an accompanying voice in your community that sees life bigger than physical possessions and worldly success, and then provide opportunities for him/her to speak into your teenager’s life.
8. Teach the Underlying Message in Advertising
Marketing is not going away and can never be completely avoided—no matter how hard we try. So help your child learn to read between the lines and behind the marketing message by asking questions like, “What are they really trying to sell you with this advertisement? Do you think that product will deliver on its promise?”
As they get older, help them see how many advertisements subconsciously appeal to our insecurities. And help them learn to always find their identity elsewhere.
9. Participate in International Service Projects
Send your kids on trips with charities or faith communities that work in less developed countries. (And I mean this honestly). These types of experiences are life-changing in many ways.
Some of my greatest understanding of the benefits of minimalism and the trappings of consumerism has occurred because of the experiences I’ve had in less-developed nations—many of which occurred well before I ever learned the word minimalism.
This is not necessarily an easy step for everyone to partake in, but I have learned of its importance over the years and believe it is important to mention here.
10. Teach Them What Matters Most is Not What They Own, But Who They Are
Consistently remind your kids that their value does not lie in what they own, but in who they are. Integrity, kindness, and generosity are the true measures of any person’s worth. Believe this. Live it. And remind your children of it as often as possible.
As parents, we know the journey has moments of both doubt and great pride. We also know it is worth the effort.
The lessons we teach about simplicity and responsibility and opportunity will shape who our children become. They will make mistakes—just like all of us. But our focus and consistency will pay off in the end.
When we parent with love, patience, and selflessness, the lessons we desire to teach have their greatest impact.