As promised, I am retuning to an issue I wrote about earlier this week regarding children and charity. The primary question I had was this: Can online giving offer the same sort of lesson to kids that tangible volunteering can?
To find out personally, I had my children join me in making donations on Giving Tuesday. Before I give you the Big Reveal on how they did, first I’ll turn to Kristi Leimgruber, a Yale researcher in the department of psychology who has studies children and generosity.
I asked her if she had thoughts on how kids might — or might not — learn from electronic charity.
“Although our research suggests that children are more motivated to be generous when others are aware of their actions, the good news is that getting children involved in any sort of charitable activity will be rewarding for them,” she said.
“Research shows that helping others feel good and the positive effects of spending money on others are stronger and longer-lasting than those we get from spending the same amount of money on ourselves. Believe it or not, your child will get much more out of giving a Furby to a less fortunate child than they ever will out of keeping for themselves.
“Whether it is donating a toy to less fortunate children, spending an afternoon in a soup kitchen or making an online donation, children will likely feel good about their actions long after they are complete.”
She said that the experience can be even more rewarding if parents involve kids as much as possible in the decision-making process about whom to give and how.
“Studies show that the more we know about the people we are helping the more we enjoy performing charitable acts. ... Rather than telling your child they have to donate their old toys, ask them how they would like to help others this holiday season. The more you can get them involved, the more exciting it will be for them — and the more likely they are to want to donate in the future.”
It’s an approach that bore fruit for me.
I am usually a micromanager extraordinaire, but on Giving Tuesday I tried my best to allow my children as much control as possible.
The experiment did not begin auspiciously. After school, I explained to my older daughter, 5 going on 17, that I would be giving her $5 to donate to any group she wanted to. Her immediate reaction: “I’m going to use it for stickers.”
After more explaining: “Okay, I’ll give it to somebody who will buy me stickers.”
And more explaining: “That’s a boring game, I’m not playing.”
Luckily her sister is more laid back and, at 3, more oblivious, so her reaction was nuanced. After my little charity speech, she asked, “Can I have a snack?”
We got home and I pulled up chairs for the three of us in front of the computer. My older daughter continued to complain while I found a site with a network of charities. I first called up the groups that work with animals. “I want to give to pandas!” shouted the younger. “I want to give to horses!”
The enthusiasm grew.
Next up was the education category.
“I want to give for girls to go to school,” the older said.
“I want to give it to Indian girls,” she shouted.
We ran through dozens of different options, with the girls clamoring to finance pretty much everyone.
I told them we could only give to one each and I would match their contribution for whichever ones they chose.
My older daughter got more serious and began editing her choices. She asked me to call up the groups helping the homeless. This is a scourge she sees regularly in the city and she became focused on contributing to a local homelessness agency.
The younger settled on the group that has strategically represented themselves with the picture of an adorable 6-year-old Haitian boy. His name, according to the group, was “Nolson” and our donation would help buy him food.
All told we spent about 45 minutes watching videos, flipping through photos and narrowing the choices. The girls would have kept me scrolling through options even longer, but I told them all our money was gone.
With that, the older one ran upstairs and returned with her piggy bank. Inside was the 35 cents she’s collected to buy herself stickers.
I said she could save up until she had a whole dollar to donate again.
As for the younger, she woke up this morning and asked, “Is Nolson better?”