In 2015 IKEA, the Swedish ready-to-assemble furniture and home furnishings retailer, asked “Why do we insist on not giving our children the gifts they really want for Christmas?” To answer this question, IKEA created an experiment in which children from 10 different families were asked to write two separate letters: one to Santa Clause and the other to their parents.
As expected, to Santa Clause, kids requested everything from the latest tech to a unicorn. In the other letter however, the one to their parents, kids wrote, “I want you to spend more time with me… that we do more experiments at home… I’d like it [if] you paid a little bit more attention to us… have dinner with us more often.” Other children asked to be tickled more, have a story read to them or simply spend the whole day together.
By the conclusion of the experiment, the parents discovered the best they could give their children is the giving of themselves. And this lesson is every bit applicable to those parents with teens — minus the tickling.
In light of the IKEA experiment, consider the following gift ideas that honor God while creating a memorable Christmas for your children and teens.
Gift an experience
Whether it’s a family ski trip or simply watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” together for the billionth time, beginning a family tradition elevates presence over presents. Does this really work? Yes. A father of a young teen I was mentoring confessed that because of his son’s affinity for expensive shoes, he could not afford new clothing for himself. While I appreciate this father’s sacrificial sentiment, unbeknownst to him, what his son really wanted was to spend time at the gun range together. Eventually shoes wear out, but a positive experience gets better every time the story is told.
Gift their love language
Gift items that speak your child’s or teen’s love language. If this is the first you have heard of “love languages,” schedule time to read Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively. Chapman writes, “Modern technology is exposing our teens to the best and worst of all human cultures.” As such, he believes there has never been a greater need for parents to “assume their role as loving leaders in the home.” Giving gifts that speak your child’s or teen’s love language is the most effective manner in which to refill a teen’s emotional “love tank.”
Gift a better story
Dr. Tim Elmore, in his book Habitudes for Communicators: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, shares of a father “grieving” his daughter’s choices that did not align with “any of the family’s values.” The solution came when the father realized “everyone wants to be a part of a story that is interesting and compelling” — a life that is a part of the solution to a problem. The daughter eventually, on her own accord, chose to abandon her old lifestyle because “she found a better story at home.” A gripping story centered around loving and serving others as a way of life.
Gift without strings attached
Attaching emotional strings to giving is a hidden manifestation of control; it can morph into manipulation that increases the risk of damaging the relationship between the giver and receiver by establishing an unfair burden of reciprocity upon the receiver. Mindy Crary writes in Forbes, “Some people think they’ll disappoint their children if they don’t lavish them with gifts. But I’ve found that with kids, gift satisfaction is usually very short term. And even early on, kids intuitively know whether the gift you are giving is for them or for you.” Crary specifically uses the label kids; however, her words are true for the teens (and adults) on your gift list, too.
Gift worshipping together
Given the busyness of the holidays, from visiting friends and family to the excitement of unwrapping gifts that (thanks to Amazon Prime) arrived before Christmas, the temptation exists to “neglect meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25). Francis Chan in Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God writes, “It’s easy to fill ourselves up with other things and then give God whatever is left,” citing Hosea 13:6, “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot Me.” Chan asserts that “God wants our best, deserves our best and demands our best.” Avoid setting the dangerous precedent of offering God merely “leftovers.” Gift the example of putting God first.
Tara Parker-Pope writes in the New York Times that “psychologists, anthropologists, economists… have found that giving gifts is a surprisingly complex and important part of human interaction, helping to define relationships and strengthen bonds with family and friends.” So while your child or teen may plead that they may not be able to live without the new iPhone X (or a unicorn), give them what they really want: the present of your presence.
C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at The Church at Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. He loves to mentor the next generation of leaders and considers himself a fast food connoisseur. @thecjwetzler.