Gifts are great, but do they always send the right message to your kids? The purpose of a gift is to emotionally communicate, “I love you. I hope this gift will enhance your life.” This is extremely important for single parents (and really, all parents) to remember. Gifts should never be given simply because a child or teenager begs for them. The question should be, “Is this gift for the well-being of my teenager?”
If the answer is no, then the parent cannot conscientiously give the gift to a teenager. For example, consider the now common practice in middle-class America for many affluent parents to give their sixteen-year-old a car. I’m not suggesting this is always bad for every family. What I am suggesting is that parents need to ask the question, “Is the gift of a car a good thing for my teenager?”
In answering that question parents must weigh a couple of factors. One is the level of maturity and responsibility of the teenager himself. Just because the state says they can legally drive doesn’t mean everyone is emotionally ready for a car at age sixteen. Some teens have not demonstrated a sufficient level of responsibility in other areas that merit the giving of a car.
A second factor is the financial ability of a single parent to provide a car. Overly committing yourself financially to give such a gift to a teenager is not ultimately good for them or for you.
While I’m talking to single parents, let me say a word to some other parents, usually fathers (sorry dads), who try to make up for their failures by lavishing unnecessary gifts on their children. There is one kind of gift that no teenager needs. It is what I call the counterfeit gift. This is the gift—often gifts—designed to take the place of true love. Such gifts are given by busy and sometimes absentee parents who are caught up in the busyness of life and have little time for speaking the love languages of words of affirmation and the remaining three languages of love: quality time, acts of service, and physical touch. So they try to make up for this deficit by giving the teenager extraneous gifts.
One single mom said, “Every time my sixteen-year-old goes to visit her father, she comes home with a suitcase full of gifts. He is not willing to help me with her medical and dental bills, but he always has money for gifts. He seldom calls her on the phone and only spends two weeks in the summer with her. But somehow the gifts are supposed to make everything all right.”
This kind of gift giving on the part of non-involved parents has become commonplace. The teenager typically receives the gifts, expresses verbal appreciation, and goes home with an empty love tank. When gifts are given as a substitute for genuine love, the teenager sees them as the shallow counterfeit they are.
Gifts are great, but don’t forget to think about the need and message before you gift.