TIME Family

Why Your Kids Don’t Thank You for Gifts

images by Tang Ming Tung;Getty Images/Flickr RM

And how to help them develop some gratitude

When we shop for holiday gifts, many of us look for things that will make our children happy. We can’t wait to hear their appreciative cries of “thank you! thank you!” once the wrapping gets ripped off.

But here’s a tip: Don’t count on it.

In this season for thanks and giving, even the most thoughtful children may not offer much gratitude for the gadgets, gizmos, and games they receive. And you’d be wise not expect it.

I’ve spent the last year living more gratefully because of a book I’m writing on the subject, so I’m confident that gratitude can make us happier, healthier, and even fitter. Seeing the world through grateful eyes can lower depression and improve sleep. It creates a pay-it-forward spirit that is good for the world. Encouraging children to write down events that made them grateful—and not just on Thanksgiving—can begin a habit that lasts a lifetime.

Read: What I’m Thankful For, by Nick Offernan, Wendy Davis and others

But gratitude for the endless stuff we buy them? All the research I’ve done has convinced me that it’s not going to happen. And there are several reasons why.

In one study, Yale’s assistant professor of psychology, Yarrow Dunham, found that 4- to 8-year old kids responded differently when given a gift they thought they earned versus one that was granted out of simple generosity. He called the earned gift an “exchange relationship.” The children were happy for the trinket but didn’t experience the deeper resonance of gratitude that might also make them more generous to others. The gift given for no reason, however, had a different emotional impact and the children showed thanks by being more likely to share candies they received in a follow-up game.

As parents, we don’t consider our holiday gifts an “exchange relationship” since we know the time, money, and effort we put in to buying them. But kids have a different view. One mom told me that when she asked her 16-year-old son to thank her for buying him a cellphone, he said, “But that’s what moms do, isn’t it?” He wasn’t being rude—just practical.

From a teenager’s vantage, it’s a parent’s responsibility to take care of the family, and playing Santa is part of the job. According to Dunham, “when teenagers code it that way, a gift is no longer something given freely and voluntarily”—it’s just mom and dad living up to their obligation. And who’s going to be grateful for parents doing what they’re supposed to do?

Read: 40 Inspiring Motivational Quotes About Gratitude

Asking our children to be grateful for gifts is sending the wrong message, anyway. Cornell psychology professor Tom Gilovich has found that people are more likely to be grateful for experiences than for material possessions. A family dinner, a songfest around the fireplace, or even a hike in the woods creates a spirit of gratitude that outlasts even the nicest Nintendo.

Parents may get exasperated when a teenager tosses a new cashmere sweater on the floor, and gratitude aside, and we do have the right to demand good manners. Children should know to say thank you (profusely) to every parent, child, aunt, and uncle who gives them something.

But kids can’t know how blessed they are unless they have a basis for comparison. And they don’t learn that by a parent complaining that they’re ungrateful. We need to give our children the gift of a wider world view. Take them to a soup kitchen instead of to the mall. Become the secret Santa for a needy family. Show by example that gratitude isn’t about stuff—which ultimately can’t make any of us happy anyway. It’s about realizing how lucky you are and paying your good fortune forward.

My favorite idea: Collect all the charitable appeals you get this time of year into a big basket and find a night when the whole family can sit down together to go through them. You set the budget for giving and the kids decide how it’s distributed. Going through each request, you have the opportunity to discuss with children and teens (and also your spouse) what it means to need a food bank or to live in a part of the world where there is no clean water. You can talk about teenagers who are caught in war zones or those suffering from disabilities. Then write the checks together or go online and make your contributions.

Once the conversation about gratitude gets started, it’s much easier to continue all year. Set up a family ritual at bedtime where kids describe three things that made them grateful. When kids go off to college, text them a picture each week of something that inspired your appreciation. Whether it’s a friend, a snowflake, or a sunset, the spirit of the photos will help you (and them) see the world differently.

Teaching children to focus on the positive and appreciate the good in their lives is perhaps the greatest gift we can give them. And we can all learn together that the things that really matter aren’t on sale at a department store.

So I hope my kids will thank me for the gifts I buy them this year. But gratitude? That needs more than wrapping paper and a bow.

TIME Body Image

Watch Little Kids React to a Realistic-Looking Barbie Alternative

"She looks like a regular girl going to school."

The dolls kids are used to playing with are often nipped and tucked to have impossibly big eyes and a ridiculously small waist. So when Nickolay Lamm presented a Pennsylvania class of second graders with his Barbie alternative, his newly created Lammily doll which has the measurements of an average 19-year-old woman (according to CDC data) rather than an anatomically impossible mutant, he didn’t know how they were going to react.

Most of the kids thought the doll, available for purchase Wednesday, looked kind of familiar.

“She looks like my sister!” one girl exclaimed, smiling. “She kind of looks like my aunt Katie,” said another.

“She looks like a regular girl going to school.”

“She looks like she would help someone if they were hurt.”

“She’s not like other dolls… she looks real.”

That reality check didn’t prove to be a bad thing. When presented with a blonde and busty Barbie, the children said that they’d rather have the one who, if real, “would be able to stand.” A very apt observations, considering previous research showing Barbie wouldn’t be able to lift her head fully if she were an actual human.

Of course unrealistic looking dolls are still very popular whether it’s Barbie or the Monster High collection with their mini-skirts and platform-heeled thigh-high boots. In 2012, researchers asked 60 girls, ages six to nine, to choose one of two paper dolls: one dressed in a tight “sexy” outfit and the other wearing a “fashionable” but loose and covered up outfit. Sixty-eight percent of the girls wanted to look like the sexy doll and 72% thought she would be “more popular” than the conservative looking paper doll. That study had a limited sample size, and paper dolls are no match for 3D toys, but the results are an indication of how difficult it is to change cultural trends.

But perhaps after a decade during which dolls have gotten ever more racy, perhaps parents and kids are ready for an appealing alternative to the bug-eyed, wasp-waisted creatures that now populate the girls aisle. At least that’s what Lamm is betting on.

Read more about the Lammily doll — and her strange accessory packs — here.

Read next: Mattel Apologizes for Making Barbie Look Incompetent in Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer

TIME viral

This Couple Tricked Everyone Into Being in Their Pregnancy Announcement

They created a brilliant keepsake

Katharine and Kris Camilli wanted to tell their friends and family that Kat was pregnant, but they didn’t want to send a boring old email or post a boring old picture of an ultrasound to Facebook and wait for the comments to roll in. They wanted real life human interaction and presumably, real hugs, not just the Facebook version of them.

The couple devised a clever, but simple scheme to capture that moment. They got their friends and family together and had them pose together for pictures, but instead of saying “Cheese!” they had them say, “Kat’s pregnant!” With a little sleight of hand, the cameras were set to video instead of photo and the reactions to the announcement were all caught on film.

Kat’s sister edited the various videos together and uploaded the completed clip to YouTube as an incredible digital keepsake for the family — and a great idea for other soon-to-be parents.

[H/T Uproxx]

MONEY Ask the Expert

How To Get Your Kids To Do Some Real Work Around the House

For Sale sign illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I owe my handiness to projects I helped my father with as a kid. But my children show no interest in lifting a hammer. How do I motivate them to become capable do-it-themselfers?

A: Thanks to affluenza as well as the draw of computer-based learning, instead of hands-on tutorials, many of today’s young digital natives are sorely lacking in analog skills. We are creating a generation that may never know how to paint a straight line or re-shingle a shed.

The effects are twofold. First, your kids may grow up into adults who, for every household project, are at the mercy of those few capable peers who become handymen and contractors. They’ll pay every time they need to tighten a rattling window or fix the toilet.

Also this lack of hands-on knowledge is—ironically—a contributing factor as to why other countries are outcompeting the United States in science, technology, engineering, and math education, those so-called STEM subjects where many of the good jobs of the future promise to be.

Getting your kids involved with you in safe, age-appropriate DIY projects is a great way to bolster their “spatial awareness,” an understanding of 3D space and how things work that helps later with engineering and physics, according to Vanderbilt University psychologist David Lubinski.

Thus spending a few hours away from their screens helping you build garage shelves or plant flower bulbs can give your kids a leg up on a career in the very technology they love.

Of course, as any parent knows, telling them that may not be enough to motivate them. Yet don’t resort to bribing your kids with a trip to Five Guys or extra screen time to get them to help out, says Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University. That sends the message that the job is an unpleasant one that no child in her right mind would want to do.

You’re better off channeling Tom Sawyer and making the project feel fun and interesting. It helps if you pick an exciting improvement task, such as building a fire-pit, hanging cabinets in the recreation room, or painting the kid’s own bedroom in her choice of color (perhaps from a list preselected by you), rather than a maintenance job like snaking a drain or bleeding the radiators. Older youth may be enticed by the chance to use power tools (with plenty of knowledgeable and safe parental supervision).

Projects with relatively immediate gratification, like painting or laying sod, are more inspiring for young minds. Thus make it a project that they’ll get to enjoy the results of—and do it at a time when distractions like video games and social networking are off limits anyway. Then, let her post photos of the finished work on Facebook, if she wants, to help build her pride and a sense of accomplishment in her work.

 

Got a question for Josh? We’d love to hear it. Please send submissions to realestate@moneymail.com.

TIME viral

Watch a Tiny Baby Rock Out on the Drums to a Pantera Song

His drum set is made of cans and pencils

Say hello to Wyatt. He’s the very tiny drummer of a heavy metal band his parents call Vulgar Display of Cuteness. Watch here as he rocks the hell out to “5 Minutes Alone” by Pantera — on his baby-sized drum set made out of cans and pencils.

Will he be the next Nick Andopolis? Most likely.

(h/t Daily Dot)

TIME Television

5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Early (Sunny) Days of Sesame Street

Sesame Street Cover
The Nov. 23, 1970, cover of TIME Cover Credit: BILL PIERCE

The classic TV show debuted 45 years ago, on Nov. 10, 1969

The history of children’s television changed for good 45 years ago today, on Nov. 10, 1969, when the first episode of Sesame Street aired. Though some adults took a little while to catch on, kids got it right away. Decades later, the show has become a cultural institution, peopled with puppets whose names are known around the world.

But, in the spirit of Sesame, there are still plenty of things to learn. So let’s make like Count von Count and total up five surprising facts from TIME’s coverage of Sesame Street‘s first year:

1. Within its first year, the show scored a hit song: The song? “Rubber Duckie,” natch. Ernie’s anthem debuted in Sesame Street‘s fourth month on the air and, by the time the show made it to the cover of TIME, had spent nine weeks on the charts. Nor did it stop there: “Rubber Duckie” eventually sold over a million singles, and peaked at 16 on the Billboard charts.

2. Richard Nixon was a big fan: In February of 1970, President Richard Nixon sent the show perhaps its most notable piece of fan mail. “The many children and families now benefiting from ‘Sesame Street’ are participants in one of the most promising experiments in educational television in the history of that medium,” he wrote. “The Children’s Television Workshop certainly deserves the high praise it has been getting from young and old alike in every corner of the nation.”

3. Its format was originally inspired by commercials: Though PBS-aired Sesame Street may seem like one of the least commercial TV shows ever — even Kermit the Frog was deemed too commercial to appear on it — it was, ironically, inspired by that profit-minded world. As Children’s Television Workshop executive director Joan Ganz Cooney told TIME the week the show premiered, she realized that the aesthetics of advertising were far more advanced, and more appealing, than the aesthetics of children’s television at the time. “Face it—kids love commercials,” she said. That was why each episode of Sesame Street contained a dozen short spots “advertising” letters, numbers and basic ideas. And the return-on-investment was one that would make any business-minded executive proud: with a budget of $28,000 per episode and an estimated audience for the first season of 7 million preschoolers a day, five days a week, the show cost less than a penny per child.

4. Its educational benefit was immediately measurable — and for good reason: Within the show’s first year on the air, the Children’s Television Workshop commissioned the Educational Testing Service (yes, the folks who bring you the SAT) to study whether it was making a difference. By looking at about 1,000 kids, mostly from disadvantaged families, the study found that the more kids watched Sesame Street the more they knew. A child who watched every weekday would see an average 19% increase in general knowledge. Younger kids, at the low end of the show’s 3- to 5-year-old target demo, were helped even more. In the years between Sesame Street‘s conception and when it finally aired, an education expert spent 18 months studying children’s’ attention spans, interests and eye movements so that the show could maximize the concentration it would get from its viewers. (One finding? No need to waste time with transitioning between segments; kids are fine with jumping from bit to bit with no extra introduction.)

5. Though it’s now one of the most diverse shows on television, Sesame Street had to make changes to get there: The human cast of the first season of Sesame Street was fairly diverse from the get-go — the hosts comprised two white men and a black couple — but it also faced very modern-sounding criticism of the make-up of its staff and cast. The National Organization for Women suggested that its female host should have a job; within a year, she became a nurse. In addition, the show added a Spanish-speaking guest host and, behind the scenes, a female writer.

Read TIME’s 1970 Sesame Street cover story, here in the archives: Who’s Afraid of Big, Bad TV?

MONEY online shopping

There’s a New Way to Get Free Shipping—Overnight, No Less

Amazon.com packages move along long conveyor belts at an Amazon.com Fulfillment Center.
Three Amazon-owned companies are offering free overnight shipping on purchases—a perk that Amazon Prime members don't get. Ross D. Franklin—AP

Three Amazon-owned sites just introduced free overnight shipping on purchases of $49, but only for customers who live in the right zip codes.

On Wednesday, Quidsi, the Amazon-owned company that operates several e-retail sites, announced that consumers in the greater New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco areas will get free overnight shipping on all orders of $49 or more placed at Diapers.com, Soap.com or Wag.com.

The three sites specialize in baby products, health and beauty merchandise, and pet supplies, respectively, and the unprecedented overnight-shipping service, which requires no specific membership or annual fee, is clearly a play to win over suburban shoppers—moms in particular.

“An important part of our mom-centric mission is to deliver products to mom at the moment she needs them,” Quidsi CEO Maria Renz said in a statement announcing free overnight shipping. “We’re excited to further this commitment to moms by offering the greater convenience of free overnight shipping to our New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles customers. Order today, get it the next day. It’s that simple. Helping moms by making shopping easier and delivery even faster is what we’re all about.”

It’s not necessary to live within the actual bounds of each city to take advantage. Check out this link for a list of the hundreds and hundreds of zip codes where free overnight shipping is now available, so long as your order total is at least $49. From a quick glance, it looks like the offer is extended to virtually all of New Jersey, as well as parts of New York including Long Island and Westchester, Orange, Rockland, Sullivan, and Putnam counties. Likewise, in addition to San Francisco and Los Angeles proper, the free shipping service is available for California residents who live in counties including Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Mendocino, Santa Clara, Marin, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, and Napa. In most cases, customers elsewhere in the country can get free two-day shipping for orders of $49 or more at the three Quidsi sites.

On the one hand, the new service—which is being offered indefinitely rather than as some short-term promotion—makes sense as an offensive in the ongoing battle for moms involving Target, Amazon, Walmart, and plenty of other retail players. Women reportedly account for 85% of all consumer purchases, and despite the fact that today’s dads are taking care of more responsibility around the house, moms tend to still be in charge of most traditional household purchases—including but not limited to baby, pet, and health and beauty products.

On the other hand, however, the easy availability of free overnight shipping for goods you need regularly, with a reasonable minimum purchase, serves as an argument against the worthiness of paying $99 annually for Amazon Prime, which comes with “free” two-day shipping on most purchases. In other words, the new service—from Amazon companies, remember—makes it much easier for customers to stop paying for another Amazon service, one that has been enormously powerful and profitable for the world’s largest e-retailer.

TIME celebrity

See Neil Patrick Harris and Family Dressed Up As Batman Characters

Time to go trick or treating!

No one loves a costume like a celebrity, and Neil Patrick Harris is no exception. Harris and his husband David Burtka dressed as the Batman villains, the Riddler and the Joker, while their son Gideon is dressed as Batman and daughter Harper appears to be Catwoman.

But despite all the preparation, Harris still couldn’t satisfy his 4-year-old kids’ eagerness to get out and do some trick-or-treating.

MONEY deals

Free Donuts, $3 Burritos, and 6 More Scary Good Halloween Food Deals

Krispy Kreme Halloween donuts
courtesy of Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme, Chipotle, and other restaurant chains are giving customers freebies--or discounts so good they'll give you an excuse not to cook on Halloween.

This year’s Halloween food deals include free bacon and free donuts, as well as several options allowing kids to eat for free. In many cases, getting into the Halloween spirit—by way of wearing a costume—is required, so check the rules and dress accordingly.

Arby’s: No costume is required to take advantage of Arby’s Halloween freebie—instead, all customers need to do is say “Trick or meat” when ordering to get bacon added at no extra charge. Free bacon can be added to burgers and other sandwiches, or even mixed into milkshakes.

Baja Fresh: Click on the link for free kids meals for children in costume, when combined with the purchase of an adult entrée.

Boston Market: Use the linked coupon for a free kids meal with the purchase of any individual meal.

Chipotle: The annual Halloween “Boo-rito” promotion allows each patron in costume to order a burrito, tacos, salad, or bowl for $3, from 5 p.m. until closing only.

IHOP: All children ages 12 and under get a free Scary Face Pancake decorated with Oreos and candy corn (scary indeed!) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Krispy Kreme: All customers in costume can select one donut free of charge today at participating Krispy Kreme locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Olive Garden: Follow the link to get a coupon for a free kid’s meal with the purchase of an adult entrée.

Outback Steakhouse: Kids in costumes eat free on Halloween—presumably also with the purchase of an adult meal, but the offer doesn’t specify.

MONEY halloween

Here’s How to Turn Trick-or-Treat Candy Into Cold Hard Cash

dentures on top of candy
Aleksandar Mijatovic—Alamy

Hey kids, you know your parents aren't going to let you eat all of the candy hauled in on Halloween trick-or-treating rounds. So why not swap some of it for cash money?

The cash payoff isn’t the only reason kids might want to trade in candy soon after Halloween is over. Doing so also supports the troops overseas.

To participate in the annual program, called the Halloween Candy Buy Back, families should start by finding a participating nearby dentist’s office, via a search tool at the link or at the program’s Facebook page. There are thousands of participants around the country–in New Jersey, Ohio, California, and beyond. Chances are, there’s a poster up at your dentist’s office asking locals to join in its Candy Buy Back campaign.

While the particulars of each participating office may differ slightly, they generally all welcome unopened candy donations in the days right after Halloween, and they pay $1 per pound of candy dropped off, with a $5 maximum payout. Some also give treats or goodie bags for kids—toys, stickers, toothbrushes, sometimes pizza or local baked goods—as well as the chance to win iPods, gift cards, and other prizes. It softens the blow inherent in handing over the sweet and chocolatey fruits of one’s labor spent trick-or-treating.

The program was originally envisioned as a means to get massive quantities of Halloween candy “off the streets” and out of the bellies of America’s children, and the campaign truly caught fire when it partnered with Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends care packages to military veterans, new recruits, and most especially troops who are deployed overseas. Some 130+ million tons of candy has been collected over the years, and with the help of Halloween Candy Buy Back participants, Operation Gratitude was able to ship its one millionth care package last December.

As for the more mercenary kids out there—those who are trading candy in for cash at least as much as they are motivated to support the troops—they’re probably trying to figure out what candies weigh the most to maximize their payout.

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