'What Kids Really Want...'

Actor Woody Harrelson on his new movie "The Messenger," on "Washington Unplugged." CBS

With parents' busy schedules and the pressure of TV commercials, shopping malls and peers, many moms and dads have overindulged children on their hands. On Wednesday, The Early Show, as part of its "Life Matters" series, looks at a new book that offers hope.

"What Kids Really Want That Money Can't Buy" asks American children to voice their needs, and you may surprised by their answers. Betsy Taylor is the author.

The book is based on the results of a national art and essay contest, in which more than 2,000 kids ages 5 to 17 responded to the question.

Kids are exposed to nearly 40,000 ads a year. But what Taylor found out was that kids, while rarely complaining about getting "stuff," really wanted love from their parents and more quality time with family, in general.

Ninety percent of kids, ages 9-14, said friends and family were more important than things money can buy. The book challenges parents to lead a more balanced life, spending less time at work and more time at home.
Read an excerpt from Chapter 1:

What DO Kids Really Want That Money Can't Buy?

THIS BOOK is for any parent who has been asked—okay, begged—for the latest toy, item of clothing, electronic gadget, or junk food. It's for any moms or dads who have spent money they didn't really have to meet their kids' demands, or bought something they didn't really approve of in response to those demands. If you've ever been mind-boggled by the sheer amount of stuff in your kids' rooms, or wondered if it is possible to escape the excessive materialism of our times, this book is for you.

Raising kids in today's noisy, fast-paced culture is difficult. Each day, kids are exposed to a barrage of commercial images and messages clamoring to sell them something. The result is a new generation of hyperconsumers growing up right in front of our eyes. For many kids and adults alike, the drumbeat of our times is about never stopping in the race to get ahead—no matter the cost.

Yes, we live in a time of extraordinary opportunities and choices. Yet there are costs to our frenzied focus on acquisition, not all of them monetary. Kids and adults are speeding through life trying to do and get as much as possible. As a result, many young people complain of sleep deprivation, stress, and depression. Commercial pressures also encourage spending rather than saving. In 2001, for the sixth year in a row, more Americans declared bankruptcy than graduated from college. University administrators cite financial mismanagement as a crisis among college students, and the average personal savings rate in the United States has plummeted.

Parents worry that their children define their self-worth through possessions and have little or no ability to delay gratification. One national poll found that 85 percent of parents are worried that their kids are becoming too materialistic. And though we don't think about it too often, creating a whole new generation of superconsumers threatens the environment as well. Americans consume more paper, energy, and aluminum per capita than any other group on earth, and our kids have grown accustomed to our throwaway culture.

When a society is so preoccupied with material things, children and adults lose touch with noncommercial sources of happiness. As noted author and clinical psychologist Mary Pipher, who wrote the introduction to this book, put it, "This generation is the 'I want' generation. They have been educated to entitlement and programmed for discontent. Ads have encouraged this generation to have material expectations they can't fulfill." Many parents want to provide a little shelter from the "more is better" culture and help their kids reconnect to slower rhythms and nonmaterial simple pleasures.

Taylor is the director of The Center for the New American Dream, a non-profit organization that challenges commercialism and helps individuals and institutions consume responsibly.
  • Tatiana Morales

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