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On Parenting
Posted at 12:53 PM ET, 11/26/2012

Is virtual charity as instructive as real-life charity?

More than one parent is challenged this time of year by how to instill a sense of charity in a child.

The holiday season seems to every year become ever more consumerist — stores opening on Thanksgiving gave us this year’s evidence.

Experts advise that modeling works best for children; let them see us work the ladle at a local soup kitchen, gather up and deliver gentle used toys to a shelter, drop some coins in a Salvation Army kettle.

Those are all good ideas, but not necessarily how we express our own charitable instincts. Many, time-stretched especially these days, have turned to online giving instead. With a few keystrokes, we can find and give to virtually any organization of our choosing.

Case in point, tomorrow is “Giving Tuesday,” a noble effort to encourage to people to turn their attention from shopping toward charitable giving.

I plan to participate with my kids, but will they “get” the idea of charity by sitting in front of a computer screen?

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A recent study by Yale researchers suggests maybe not.

The researchers found that children tend to be not only inherently greedy (not much surprise there) but also manipulative in their generosity. The children in the study shared well only when they were being observed and hardly at all when they thought no one was looking.

One conclusion the author Kristin Lyn Leimgruber drew, she later told me, was that instilling children with a sense of goodwill might be most effective when involving them in “activities in which they can directly interact with the beneficiary of their kindness (i.e. helping in a soup kitchen or being a buddy to a participant in the Special Olympics) in a very tangible and visible way may be extra rewarding for children.

“As our results suggest, the only thing better than doing something nice for others is the feeling of everyone knowing you were generous in the first place.”

It doesn’t seem like online giving would fit that definition.

Others say it does — and in some ways is more interactive for children.

“Certainly volunteering in person with any charity is wonderful but it’s also possible to translate those experiences online,” GlobalGiving director of user experience Kevin Conroy wrote to me.

GlobalGiving is a fundraising Web site for social entrepreneurs and nonprofits that allows users to search pre-screened and graded charities that support everything from childhood cancer research to arts programing to a local camp for children with autism to the Maryland Family Network.

Conroy said his own children are avid online givers because the online experience allows him to help them find charities that interest them most. He said:

“My one-year-old son loves Sesame Street and we have projects on our site that will help muppeteers in the developing world educate children about issues in their country. One of my daughter’s friends wants to be a fireman. We have a project that helps rebuild a village in India that was burned down by a fire. My four and half year old daughter has taken an interest in buffalo after this Thanksgiving. We have a project that will help preserve buffalo out West…

“Parents can help explain how their interests can be mapped to a charity and to others with specific projects. Children as young as two and half can relate to the pictures on the site and how their donation can help in ways that are tangible to a child.”

Do you agree?

I want to, so I will involve my daughters in Giving Tuesday tomorrow and report back.

What other ways are you involving your kids in giving this holiday season?

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By  |  12:53 PM ET, 11/26/2012

Tags:  Holidays

 
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