How do we teach our children to be mindful consumers?

A few ground rules, on screen time especially, will help adults raise kids with the capacity to amuse themselves.

In today’s world, we’re inundated with stuff. With one click you can have your heart’s desire delivered to your front door. Want a special dish? Log on and your favorite food will arrive. Indeed, all things are literally at our fingertips. The net effect is that many kids have every toy, appliance and electronic device that screams out to them.

Now that I’m a day-to-day grandpa, I spend more time with young children. My grandkids and their friends, at times, seem insatiable. They get a toy or a game and then they want something else shortly after. They lose interest quickly. What’s more worrisome is that many children have lost the capacity to amuse themselves. They need external stimulation or screens to occupy themselves and demand to be amused when they’re bored.

Learning how to cope with boredom is an important adult skill we learn from an early age. We’re not always occupied in some engaging activity. We sometimes have nothing we need or want to do. How do we handle this free time? Do we use it constructively or do we engage in something mind-numbing? Learning how to occupy yourself is important.

So how can we help our kids be mindful consumers? How can we help them learn how to amuse themselves? How can we teach them to appreciate what they have and not hunger for something new and shiny?

Limit buying stuff. You don’t have to get your kids every new thing. My daughter joined the local “Buy Nothing” group and picked up a large bucket full of toy cars and trucks that another family had outgrown. Her three-year-old was thrilled! She’ll do the same when he outgrows those toys. A next-door neighbor gave them an outdoor trampoline that her kids outgrew. Spread your stuff around. It will help our environment and save money at the same time!

Stand your ground. Kids will just nickel and dime you to death. They’ll wear you down until you’ll give them that new dollhouse just because they’ve exhausted you. But what have they learned? They learned that if they apply constant pressure, you’ll cave. So, the next time they just turn up the volume. If you’re consistent with whining, they’ll still try, but they’ll learn that “no” actually means “no.”

Limit screen time. It’s OK to let the kids use screens — but figure out how much and when they can turn the iPad, TV or computer on. Establish a schedule and then stick with it.

Plan ahead. Children are often predictable. I spend Wednesday afternoons with my 6-year-old granddaughter after I pick her up from school. She’s tired after a long day at school, and after a snack, she wants to watch TV. I have several games, art supplies and activities planned instead. She has plenty of time to watch Netflix at home. If you don’t turn on the TV, kids will find something to do.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.

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