Dear Rachel,

We are, fortunately, quite successful financially and have always been able to give our children everything they need and want. For better or worse, our children are accustomed to having the newest models of whatever comes out, and enough toys and gadgets to fill another home. When they were younger, this never seemed to be an issue, but now that they are all tweens and teens, we are having a real problem.

This Chanukah, like in all years past, my kids got everything on their wish list. It is ridiculous how much money was spent on them, and they did nothing to deserve it. But worse, they were completely unappreciative and even complained that they didn't like the colors or the accessories that came with some of their gifts. Not only didn't they bother saying thank you, we were met with eye-rolling and smirks. Needless to say, they didn't buy anything for anyone else in the family and acted like they were doing us a favor even being there to open their gifts. I am horrified that I have raised such spoiled brats. Is there anything I can do about it at this point?



Dear D.J.,

You said something in the beginning of your letter that is the real foundation of this issue. You write how you have always given your children everything they "need" and everything they "want." Unfortunately, that is the problem. Ideally, we are able to provide our children with everything they need. They need food, clothing, love, support, education, shelter, etc. Even more so, if we are fortunate, we are able to provide our children with many of the things they want as well. But by no means is it healthy for us to equate their needs and their wants, nor to provide for all of their wants.

It is not healthy to equate their needs and their wants Children want an endless amount of things. And often, they can feel like a bottomless pit. No matter how much you buy, they want more. Take a child to a toy store. They can walk through saying, "I want, I want, I want" at everything they pass. And they genuinely do want all that they are seeing. Sometimes, it is even too much to take them to such a store and give them so many options because they can't possibly decide what they want more than something else. That is why with younger children it is best to just buy them something, or give them a very limited choice. Offering a toy car or building blocks is something that they can decide between. Taking them to the store and telling them to pick out whatever they want is just overwhelming. And in the end, no matter what they get, they will immediately see something that they would have liked better.

As children grow, they become more specific with what it is they want and can better make their own decisions. But even these need to be limited. Older children need to be able to budget and decide what they really want the most and what they will do without. If they have $50 to spend, they can either buy the boots they really love or get three of the CDs they've been wanting.

But when children have no limits and have always had whatever they want with no sense of worth, then everything becomes worthless and meaningless to them. And unfortunately, in your desire to give your children everything, you have created a situation where they appreciate and value nothing.

So … is it too late? No, of course not. Torah teaches us that it is never too late to make positive changes in our lives. But don't expect it to be easy!

Your children need to learn to value money and understand its worth. They also need to understand how fortunate they are to have material comforts when so many others are struggling.

Torah teaches us it is never too late I am not a believer in taking away gifts once they are given, though that is always an option. If your children aren't happy with what you have bought them, ask them to return them to you. Tell them you certainly don't want them to have things they don't want. Chances are that they will quickly decide that their gifs are good enough to keep. But from this point on, you need to drastically change your approach.

Your children need to understand what is involved in making money. If you are not giving an allowance, I would start. But it needs to be reasonable. If they are getting a huge allowance, it is not going to help things at all. Do some research and see what the average allowance is for their age group. Then come up with a list of responsibilities that must be met in order to get that allowance.

Even if you have cleaning help or babysitting help, ensure that your children help around the house by cleaning their rooms, making their beds, helping a younger sibling, etc. Additionally, give them a set amount of hours that they need to help someone else. Give your children a list of options (mowing en elderly neighbor's lawn, helping someone with grocery shopping, babysitting, cooking, running errands, volunteer work, etc) and let them choose what they most naturally enjoy doing. Their allowance should be dependent on the hours they are putting in.

As your children reach the age where they can be legally employed, let them get a job at a local store (do not give them a plush position in your office where they get overpaid for doing nothing). They need to learn what it takes to make money and understand how they can only spend the same money once.

Another very important lesson is teaching them the need for giving tzedakah, which is loosely translated as charity. The problem with the word "charity" is that it sounds like it is an option, whereas the concept of tzedakah is that of "justice." It is not an option to help another, it is a requirement. In Jewish law we are required to give ten percent of our earnings to help those less fortunate than ourselves. This should include any and all money that your children receive as well. The best way to show them the importance of tzedakah is to clearly to ensure you are doing it yourself. And all the better if you not only write a generous check, but do something that involves your family. As a family, volunteer in a soup kitchen or deliver food to the needy, or do something where you are actively engaged in the act of helping others.

Teach them the need for giving Being that your children clearly did not appreciate their gifts this Chanukah, perhaps for their birthday, don't buy them any presents. Rather, present them with a list of organizations that help others, and let them choose which one they feel most passionate about. Then make a donation to that organization in the name of your child, and let him know that you decided this year to put that money towards a cause he cares about since he clearly doesn't really need anything else.

If that sounds like too harsh of an option, maybe split it with him. Tell him that you will buy him a smaller gift and would like to take the other half of the money you would have spent and give it to others.

Your children should also learn how the things that they would easily toss away could be very useful and desired by others. Have them go through their closets, toy chests and playroom and take out anything that haven't used recently. Then let them box it up and donate it to one of the many organizations that could use it. Just like in the toy store a child can get overwhelmed, so too, when there are too many options children can get bored with what they have. The more things are minimized, the more likely they are to actually use what they have.

If you can start teaching your children the value of money and involve them in projects helping others, you will be able to transform spoiled children into children actively making a difference in their community. I have no doubt that by next Chanukah your children can have an entirely new perspective on their lives and those of others. And teaching them the distinction between their needs and their wants is truly the best gift you can possibly give them.

Happy Chanukah!