Youth Culture Window

The Best Christmas Gift

Christmas is coming. Do you give kids what they want or what they need? While they “want” Call of Duty: Black Ops, they might “need” new socks.

But the thing kids need the most can’t be wrapped and put under a tree.

Failure to Connect
What kids need most are meaningful relationships…and those kinds of relationships come in a (very) limited quantity.

According to a study released by The Search Institute, 81% of 15-year-olds lack “meaningful relationships” with adults outside their family (like teachers, coaches, mentors, etc). If that’s not bad enough, the disconnect kids feel is interfering with their social, emotional, and even professional development.

The study focused on three interesting points of teens’ lives: “spark” (passions/interests), “voice” (confidence/skills), and “relationships” (access to high-quality resources). The bottom line for all three revealed a gap between “support needed” by teens and “support received” by teens.

The survey of 1,850 15-year-olds was actually sponsored by Best Buy, the electronics retail giant. It appears as though all the gadgets on sale at Best Buy this Christmas season promising “better communication” can’t do the trick.

Kids need real relationships with adults; the occasional phone call or text message just doesn’t do the trick. Jonathan McKee speaks to this in his book, Connect, Real Relationships in a World of Isolation.“Even though teens might be more comfortable with us connecting with them through cell phones and computers, I see these digital mediums only as stepping-stones for youth workers to engage in face-to-face communication. In relational ministry, technology should be used as a tool, not a crutch.”

That’s a lesson parents need to learn…quickly. 

Parents’ Practices
Many parents – some purposefully, and some unintentionally – are changing their communication style with their kids; instead of a personal, face-to-face connection, tech-based tools are being used more often.

For instance, the average teenager sends and receives a whopping 3,339 text messages each month. (Boys send/receive 2,539 texts each month, while girls up the average with their 4,050 text messages sent/received.)

You might be thinking, “Wait a second! Kids and parents don’t text each other.”


According to a study by cellular provider AT&T, 73% of parents think teens are more responsive to text messages than any other form of communication, and 56% of parents say texting makes their children easier to reach. In fact, 66% of teens say their parents send them text messages when they’re in class at school!

But that’s just texting. What about other forms of communication? Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have permanently altered parent/teen communication…but some of those alterations aren’t healthy. 

According to research released by Truste, an internet security firm, 85% of parents monitor their child’s profile at least once a week. That’s a good practice which provides parents with plenty of conversation starters.

40% of the same parents say they “regularly log” into their kids’ accounts – with their kids’ permission. Again, this is a good habit because it lets teenagers know they’re being governed.

But 10% of parents log into their teens’ Facebook accounts secretly.

Teenagers already have very few “meaningful relationships” with adults. There’s no need for parents to take away what few “trustworthy relationships” kids have, as well.

Kinect or Connect?
This Christmas season will provide parents with another opportunity to “farm out” their responsibilities to the likes of video games, toys, 52” HD TVs, cell phones, and all the other gifts most-sought after this year.

But the greatest gift parents can give is not an XBox Kinect; it’s a connection with you.

A report by MTV and the AP that came out three years ago surprised (and excited) many parents: spending time with family makes kids the happiest. Kids’ desire for parents’ time is still strong today, and even echoed in The Search Institute’s latest findings (above).

This year, you don’t have to choose between giving kids what they want or what they need. You can do both by simply giving yourself. I’m not saying put a bow on your head and crawl under the Christmas tree…though that would definitely make for an unforgettable moment Christmas morning. Just make a concerted effort to spend loads of quality time with your kids this holiday season.

You know, I can’t tell you what I got for Christmas when I was 5 or what I got when I was 25. Heck I can’t even remember what I got for Christmas last year! But I do recall that every single Christmas – without exception – was spent with family. And that means the most to me today.

The brand new iPhone 4 will eventually break, and the 3-D TV will be outdated by something even cooler (by next Christmas). But you can be irreplaceable…if you choose to be.

This Christmas, we have the opportunity to make the season about the giver, not just a gift.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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