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Stewardship - Inspire June 09 - growing up generous

Nurturing the values of generosity and the discipline of giving will help kids build resistance to materialism, says STEVE PIERCE

Children love stories – and the story of Jesus is the best there is.

In a wonderfully honest poem, American poet Stephen Dunn’s young daughter attends a church holiday club. She is joyfully captivated by the story of Jesus, in contrast to his own disbelief: 

Soon it became clear to us:
you can't teach disbelief to a child,
only wonderful stories,
and we hadn't a story nearly as good.

But this isn’t the only story that children are being told.

Just buy it!

A 2004 survey by the National Consumer Council found that children as young as 10 were being primed to be shopaholics, with 80% of kids between 10 and 12 developing a passion for conspicuous consumption.

The recent Reflections on Childhood report by The Children’s Society found that 89% of adults believed that children were more materialistic than earlier generations. TV is one way the modern story of  “Just buy it!” is told with 70% of kids saying they have a TV in the bedroom.

But while we worry about TV, their world is moving on. A notable feature of teen life is ‘media stacking’ – watching TV while looking at MySpace or Facebook, talking on Messenger or Twitter, listening to music on their MP3 – and answering the mobile phone! Today’s kids have more disposable income, more opportunities to spend and more people telling them how to spend it.
In the TV series Star Trek, the Borg assimilate all other species into soldier drones, thinking as one. Their message: resistance is futile.

Faced with a modern kids’ world we may feel the same!  But nurturing the values of generosity and the discipline of giving is one way to build resistance. It will also help to shape godly attitudes that will last a lifetime.

It isn’t the uphill struggle you might imagine. A 2002 poll found that three quarters of secondary school children are involved in fundraising and think charities use money wisely, while over half want to do more charity work through school.

Learn to fly before leaving the nest

There are a number of things that adults can do to nurture giving in children. Here are some starters;

  • Model generous giving: children learn from what they see so never be afraid to explain to children about your own giving. If you are embarrassed, do something about it!
  • Give, save, spend: children learn from what they do so encourage them to both give and save from their own income, whatever it is. They learn (painfully!) how to spend within their means. Never send the wrong message, eg slipping 10p in the offering plate.
  • Involve them in family decisions: let children have their say about where to give and encourage discussions.
  • Child sponsorship: this is a great way to open kids’ eyes to another culture, to needs and to make their giving personal. Write (Internet messaging is sometimes possible) and share photos.
  • Let them see the need: don’t be over-sensitive about exposing them to need. Watch Comic Relief with them, discuss charity adverts on TV; take them to a soup kitchen with you. A friend took his (old enough) kids to Kenya to see development work the family was supporting.
  • A charitable giving account: older teens often want to give, but without a focus giving is lost. A charitable giving account from Stewardship is a great way to plan regular giving without having to decide at the outset where the money goes. Regular or spontaneous gifts can be arranged later, when particular needs arise. 

They say ...

“As a young person, I was inspired to start giving because my youth leader challenged me by telling us: ‘When God’s got your wallet then he’s got your heart’.” Celal Berker, North London

“As a young person, I learned about children like myself but who did not have anything. I was challenged, and wanted to give something that was meaningful. For me, it all started by giving away a favourite doll.” Sylvia from Essex

How churches can nurture giving among young people

1 Commit to the wellbeing of others as a core value of the congregation
2 Cherish children and youth. Value them so they learn to value and care for others
3 Connect to faith and tradition by teaching the biblical principles of sharing
4 Establish norm and expectations so that generosity becomes natural
5 Provide opportunities for youth to practise giving within the broader context of managing money well
6 Provide opportunities for youth to practise serving by engaging in projects
7 Support families because children learn from what they know.
8 Connect generations so that children learn from congregations

Growing up Generous: Engaging youth in giving and serving by Eugene C Roehlkepartain, Elanah Delyah Naftali and Laura Musegades


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