OPINION: Teach them early about giving

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

It was Orla's third birthday last week and, despite my best efforts, the Barbie era has dawned. The flaxen-haired harpy in her impossibly pink frocks crept over the threshold as Orla's friends arrived for her party brandishing gifts. We put the pile to one side until the candle-blowing was done, but then I watched horrified as she tore through the wrapping, hardly pausing to hold what was inside. It made me think of the dreadful Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter books who, on his birthday morning, bemoans his parents for giving him 37 presents, one less than the previous year.

Later I suggested to Orla and Kit, her six-year-old brother, that next time round we could ask their friends to make a donation to a children's charity instead of a present and so embarked upon one of those conversations that I remember so well - all about the children who would shout for joy at the prospect of an uneaten sausage.

It went down, predictably, like a lead balloon, but I'm sure there's something there. It's just finding the right approach. We have grown accustomed as adults to making donations to a chosen charity in lieu of wedding gifts, silver anniversary presents and even funeral flowers. Why not children's birthdays too? Besides making parents feel easier, it would connect this generation of consumerist children with the idea of charity.

Most research shows that it is young people who are least interested in our sector. Here would be an opportunity, as the Jesuits used to say, to get them young.

The problem will be convincing them to give up the cascade of presents. I don't think my two are so spoilt as to be unusual. As things stand it would be less a case of them freely giving than their wicked parents forcibly depriving them of their gifts and in the process turning them off the cause. How do we make something that is currently so counter-cultural seem right and natural? With Christmas fast approaching, all top tips on squaring the circle gratefully accepted as a gift in kind.

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