Recently, as I was shopping at one of Dubai’s many malls with my son, I could not help but notice “Back to School” promotional signs displayed everywhere. From school supplies to sporting goods, clothes, toys, candy, gadgets and gizmos, children and parents are lured by retailers to buy, buy and buy more in preparation for the new school year.
As a parent of a child who was also getting ready to go back to school, I could not help but feel overwhelmed by all the consumer-driven deals around me. It made me feel that if I didn’t buy into all the tempting deals and purchase all the must-have products, I was lacking as a parent and compromising my child’s learning. Then, my mind shifted to thinking of the 8 million children around the world that we at Dubai Cares have been reaching to through our campaigns. I considered how most, if not all, of our beneficiary children would never have the luxury of owning these “must-have” Back to School products. I reminded myself that actual “learning” is not dependent on the availability of these products at all: a child, for example, does not need a super-hero themed back-pack to learn, nor do they need an iPad to be able to do their alphanumeric exercises, nor must they eat chips and chocolate everyday for lunch.
Yet, as I walked down aisles, I noticed that the products have been so shrewdly marketed that even if we, as parents, are smart enough not to be tempted by them, our children with their vulnerable and innocent minds will naturally gravitate to them. That leaves the average parent with 2 options - don’t buy it and deal with the ensuing tantrums or buy it and bear the guilt of having wasted your funds on frivolous purchases, none of which will positively affect your child’s learning.
My son being no different than other kids, pointed to a ‘Hulk’ superhero backpack for me to buy, unmindful that he already has an Iron man backpack at home in mint condition. I decided at that moment to experiment with a third option. I turned to my son and said: “You know honey, there are millions of children around the world who don’t have any school bags because they are too poor to buy one. You already have a very nice backpack at home so instead of buying another one, how about I give you the money and you can help another child, just like you, buy a backpack because he needs it very much - that would make you a true super hero.”
With an anxious look on my face, I began to study my son’s reaction as he paused, contemplated, and finally responded with: “Do I get him the Hulk bag or Ironman or Batman, mommy?” My heart skipped a beat at his response. I was over the moon and suggested we drop the money inside a donation box so that the beneficiary child can make the choice.
As the “giving experience” is what is important, I handed my son the money for him to gradually place inside one of the donation boxes at the mall. It took him about 5 minutes to finish putting in the money and the pleasure he gained from the experience was far more rewarding than watching me pay for a brand new Hulk backpack. When he was done, I embraced him and said: “You just made a child who needs a bag very happy and you are mommy’s favorite super hero!”
Moral of the story: Children, like adults have a conscience and it is up to us as parents to ignite the spirit of philanthropy at an early age. It is all a matter of how we package the discussion with them - simplify it, make it relatable, and most importantly engage them in the act of giving so that they feel connected to the outcome. Let them relish the act of having done something great for someone else, because the fact is, all humans are at their happiest when they serve others and children are no exception.
So, the next time you and your family are out shopping and your children are lured by excessive marketing gimmicks, consider turning it into an opportunity. Plant the seed of philanthropy within them and observe how it helps them blossom into responsible and compassionate individuals as adults. Rest assured that this is perhaps the most precious “back to school” experience you can gift to your child.