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  • Writer's picture The Vindicator

Christmas Consumerist Chaos

An outsider perspective on the expectations of American children during the holiday season.

Written by Mariam Altuhaimer

Holiday consumerism on American children has become a steadily growing issue over the last two decades. While the internet and social media encompass most of our adult attention, they do the same for children. As the daughter of immigrants, I’ve seen the differences between American and Middle Eastern (specifically Jordanian) children when it comes to the entitlement shown over gifts during the holidays. The targeting of ads in both children’s TV programs and games makes American children act out. Children may come to associate happiness and love with the quantity or cost of gifts they receive, which risks fostering materialistic values. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment if those expectations are not met. 

There is a constant bombardment of needing in-app coins for games, new phones or tablets to play said games on or just chanting their demands of a toy they’ve seen repeatedly advertised to them. I don’t blame the kids for their behaviors — their attention spans only allow them to focus on a big event, like Christmas, to convey their materialistic needs. Over the years I have seen kids have meltdowns over their gifts (or lack thereof) in-person and online. As someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, this has always been a humorous point in the holidays for me. Watching kids and their parents cry and scream at each other because the correct gift wasn’t given or because it wasn’t the right color or style always gave me a sick sense of satisfaction. For a holiday that is supposed to be about community and charity, the gluttony and selfishness never ceases to amaze me. 

When I went home for break last year, it was the first time I got to see Jordan during the winter as an adult. I didn’t really expect much because it is a Muslim-majority country, but the lights and decorations in the airport when I landed were beautiful, bright and sparkling, wishing all arriving and departing “Happy Holidays.” Driving home from the airport, I saw Amman covered in decorations and even Christmas sales happening. When I later asked my sister about it, she said that it was less about Christmas as a religious holiday and more about celebrating the winter with the Christian minority in Jordan. My nieces and nephews didn’t seem to think much about the season. During the month I was in Jordan, I watched how my nieces and nephews interacted with the ads shown to them when they were watching TV or playing games. They seemed to ignore the ads, seeing them more as a nuisance than a target.

"Christmas, as I’ve come to learn from bingeing Hallmark movies, is supposed to be about family, togetherness, kindness and generosity."

I wondered — why? Why do these ads, the same ones kids in America see , not affect them the same way? Why does the holiday season — mainly the sales — not make them act out? I realized it was because the values instilled into my nieces and nephews aren’t ingrained in American children. Not necessarily moral values or kindness, but more so the societal structure in Jordan greatly differs from the one in the United States. When my sisters told their kids no, there wasn’t any fight or a meltdown: they accepted it. There weren’t expectations for them to receive something they waited an entire year for, nor were they told to be on their best behavior because a mythological figure was cataloging their every action to determine whether or not they were worthy of a Razor scooter. It was easier for my siblings to shop for their kids and give them surprises before their school term resumed, for my nieces and nephews to enjoy the season without basing their entire year around it. 

After returning from Jordan, I came to understand that it genuinely wasn’t the American kids’ fault how they reacted to the holiday stress. They had been conditioned into their entitlement, like mini psych projects, and their expectations of the holiday season had begun early in their lives. They began to build upon those expectations because of what their parents gave them. I thought that, as an outsider looking in, I would have a clearer perspective as to why it has become such a large problem. Below, I break down what I see as the problems with the holiday season for American children.

1. Commercialization of Holidays

This has been a point of contention in the United States throughout my childhood. The holiday season has steadily grown into an uncontrollable monster of ads, wishlists and sales. If the children aren’t getting swept up in it, their parents are. They begin to fall victim to the frenzy of feeling that the holiday season instills. From Rite Aid to JCPenney, everyone has a Christmas deal you just have to get your hands on. As the years go on and Christmas sales start to creep up sooner and sooner, the commercials do, too, setting the kids up for an earlier buildup of meltdowns. 

2. Bullying and Peer Pressure

  Since Americans have already fostered the culture of “go big or go home,” our children learn at an early age to compare their gifts with those of their friends and classmates the moment winter break has ended. My siblings and I were also victims to the feeling of otherness when not having a Christmas present to talk about after winter break — so much so that my dad let us each buy a gift for ourselves right before break ended, so that we’d have something to talk about. We didn’t wrap them, nor did we claim it was from Santa, but it still felt nice to be included in the excitement of the season. If  Muslim children needed to do it, I really feel for the Christian and non-religious children who are expected to get amazing presents. The competitive aspect of who got the better present was a lunchtime conversation topic for at least a week back in my elementary and middle school days. 

3. Overstimulation and Meltdowns

As I said earlier, watching the meltdowns as an outsider has always been something the cynic in me looks forward to, but I don’t think it's fair to either the parent or the child. From Christmas music on repeat to the increase in pressure from the adults around them, kids are overstimulated more easily, and expecting them to be able to regulate their emotions (when I as a 23-year-old barely can) is not fair. I do think the meltdowns over what they get are a little much, though. Outside stimuli aside, teaching kids to be grateful for whatever it is their parents or caretakers get for them needs to become more common. 

4. Social Media and Influencers 

My dislike for child Youtubers and the abusive way they are exploited on social media could be a 2,000 word article on its own, so I’ll digress. The child Youtubers and TikTokers like Ryan’s World and EvanTubeHD have created a frenzy in their own right, ramping up the chaos around the holiday season. When parents delegate their children to iPads and TVs, they are watching video after video of kids their age unboxing and playing with some of the most expensive and trendy products available. Without moderation or monitoring, this inevitably leads to kids banking on their parents being able to get them the same things. 

To address the potential issues of entitlement, it's crucial for parents, caregivers and educators to promote a healthy perspective on gift-giving and to teach children about the value of gratitude, empathy and responsible consumption. This involves fostering open communication, setting realistic expectations and encouraging children to appreciate the true spirit of the holiday season beyond material possessions. Parents can also guide children in creating more meaningful wish lists that include a balance of experiences, practical items and gifts within reasonable budget constraints. 

We as a society have started to see children less as people and more as disturbances, especially around the holiday season. Bright lights, loud music and colorful decorations can overwhelm a child's senses. Holiday displays, both at home and in public spaces, may be visually and auditorily stimulating, which can be challenging for children who are sensitive to sensory input. Holiday shopping in crowded malls and stores can be overwhelming for children. The noise, large crowds and chaotic environments can lead to stress and sensory overload, especially for those who may be more sensitive to external stimuli. The holiday season often coincides with an increase in screen time, whether it's watching holiday movies, playing video games or using electronic devices for extended periods, which can contribute to overstimulation and negatively impact a child's well-being. The holiday season is filled with social events, parties and gatherings, and while these can be enjoyable, the sheer number of activities can lead to fatigue and stress for children who may need downtime for rest and relaxation. The holidays also often disrupt regular routines, including changes in sleep patterns, meal times and daily activities. These disruptions can contribute to fatigue as children adjust to a less predictable schedule. 

The anticipation of receiving gifts, combined with the excitement of unwrapping them, can lead to heightened emotions. Children may become overly focused on the material aspects of the holidays, contributing to a sense of overwhelm. Holiday celebrations often involve an abundance of sweets, treats and rich foods. The consumption of sugary and unhealthy foods can affect children's energy levels and behavior, contributing to overstimulation and hyperactivity. Children may feel pressure to meet expectations during the holidays, whether it's performing in school events, participating in family traditions or socializing with relatives. These pressures can create stress and contribute to more stress for parents and less overall enjoyment for families.

All in all, children during the holiday season can be nasty little gremlins, regardless of their national origin. Their attitudes, entitlement and lack of social awareness make them less likely to understand why mom couldn’t buy them a brand new PS5 with four controllers so all their friends can play. Christmas, as I’ve come to learn from bingeing Hallmark movies, is supposed to be about family, togetherness, kindness and generosity. If Kate can put aside her dislike of Christmas to help Daniel figure out the cause of his mysterious murder before Christmas Eve, we as adults should be able to have a little compassion towards children who are excited about the time of the year they look the most forward to. The American Christmas experience wouldn’t be as famous as it is without the children who bring their enthusiasm and innocence to the mix. As an outsider who has always looked forward to the spectacle of Christmas, I say that this year we should be more tolerant towards the little hellions and give them some grace. Happy holidays and stay safe.

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