What to get That Older Child on Your Holiday Shopping List

What to get That Older Child on Your Holiday Shopping List

By Jim Windell

            We all have them on our shopping list. Those sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or grandchildren -- older kids who are no longer children and much too old for Legos, dolls or stuffed animals.  There lies the dilemma -- what to to get them.

            Fortunately, there is research that will help out.

            It comes from the International Journal of Research in Marketing and is based on research led by Lan Nguyen Chaplin, associate professor of marketing at the University of Illinois Chicago.

            Dr. Chaplin compared the level of happiness children derive from material goods with the level of happiness they derive from experiences. In four studies with children and adolescents, Chaplin and her collaborators demonstrated that children ages three to 12 derive more happiness from material things than from experiences. However, older children get more happiness from their experiences than from their possessions.

           "What this means, " Dr. Chaplin says, “is that experiences are highly coveted by adolescents, not just expensive material things, like some might think."

           She goes on to explain, "Don't get me wrong. Young children do love experiences. Entire industries (e.g., theme parks such as Disneyland) are built around this premise. In fact, young children are ecstatic throughout the experience. However, for experiences to provide enduring happiness, children must be able to recall details of the event long after it is over."

            So, what does this mean in practical terms as you are shopping for the perfect gift for that older kid?

           "Take pictures or videos of family walks, playing in the snow, and birthday parties," Dr. Chaplin suggests. "Children are likely going to appreciate those experiences more if there is something to remind them of the event. Additionally, they'll be able to learn the social value of shared experiences."

           This reminds me of a gift I gave a nephew when he was about 12. He showed an interest in music, particularly playing the drums. I got him and I tickets to a Buddy Rich concert and took him. It might not have changed the course of his life, but he did go on to become a professional drummer playing with one of the major rock groups when he was in his 20s. He vividly remembers that concert we shared. But I'm sure if I given him a video game or a book, those gifts would have been quickly forgotten.

         What I learned from my experience with my nephew and what was reinforced by this study is that creating new memories and exploring new interests may be far more valuable for most older kids than acquiring new possessions.

           To read the original journal article, go to:

            Lan Nguyen Chaplin, Tina M. Lowrey, Ayalla A. Ruvio, L.J. Shrum, Kathleen D. Vohs. Age differences in children's happiness from material goods and experiences: The role of memory and theory of mindInternational Journal of Research in Marketing, 2020; 37 (3): 572 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijresmar.2020.01.004



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