This is what my email inbox looked like one morning in mid-May: ‘must-have’ spring jackets; ‘must-have’ ingredients for youthful looks; and a little further down my emails – ‘must-have’ summer styles. I don’t think I’ve had a ‘must-have’ funeral plan – yet.
Being somewhat of a rebel, this well-worn but psychologically clever cliché tends to have the opposite effect on me. ‘No thanks’, I’ll say inwardly, ‘not if you tell me I need it.’
Perhaps that comes from experience and maturity (without the ingredients to make me look more youthful), but it’s far more difficult for our younger generations who are subject to the same manipulative and enticing advertising that we are, but are less equipped to resist.
Their young minds are not yet matured, are easily influenced and vulnerable to suggestion; they want to fit in with the crowd. I did, when I was young. I’m sure you did too.
Those of us who are parents or caring for children and young people know first hand the power of advertising on them. They ‘must have’ the latest trainers; the latest Xbox games; the latest fashion; the latest toys; or – as in one teen son’s case – the latest version of the rather brilliant Oculus Quest (a virtual reality headset, if you must ask).
Ironically, the one ‘must-have’ that we all need – the one and only Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ – is soundly rejected by the majority of young and old. Meanwhile, the pressures to accept the temporary and fickle must-haves offered up by the world continue.
They promise happiness but they do not fulfil our inherent need for lasting happiness.
‘Yes please’, says the world, ‘I’ll have that!’
‘No thank you, God’, says the world. ‘I don’t need you.’
Parenting through these pressures is tough. ‘I need it. I must have it!’ says the child. ‘No, you want it but you don’t need it’, I’ll say. They feel hard done by; I feel a little bad for saying ‘no’. But then, it didn’t hurt me for my parents to say ‘no’ when I wanted something that I didn’t need.
But then neither did my parents, nor I and my siblings, have the digital bombardment of advertising that we face today. Parenting in the West today is, in many ways, more challenging than ever before. But we’re also reassured in Scripture that there is nothing new under the sun; and that our God is unchanging.
These types of pressures on our children are not a new phenomenon. They are undoubtedly more incessant and harder to resist, but they give us another valuable opportunity to respond with a Biblical perspective. It’s a chance to discuss the difference between wants and needs (doesn’t God always provide our needs?; the dangers of coveting or wanting something we don’t have; of teaching our children that happiness through ‘things’ is temporary even if acquiring things brings instant satisfaction.
A presumably aged, seasoned King Solomon (traditionally considered to be the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes), wrote almost despairingly of the vanity of life. He acquired great wisdom and knowledge; more wealth than most could dream of; he acquired anything he wanted. But he realised ‘all was vanity’.
Instead, he recognised that true happiness can only be found in fearing God and keeping His commandments. And this is why he tells his readers to remember their Creator in the days of their youth. With hindsight, Solomon recognised that this was the only route to finding authentic pleasure in life.
That’s not to say he believed it was wrong to possess great riches (Paul wrote to Timothy that it’s the love of money that is the root of all evil). Solomon didn’t even ask for wealth. The important lesson he is imparting is to fear God. That is to be our priority – however young we are.
Let’s rise to the challenge when we can and show our children a better way to respond to the enticement to ‘must have’.
‘Imperfect Mum’ has both sons and daughters. She attends a Baptist church somewhere north of Watford.