I happen to think that online wishlists (like those at a large Internet book retailer) are awesome. A couple of years ago, I set them up for the kids. Our far-away relatives are always asking what the kids want for their birthdays, and wish lists allow those relatives to choose something with confidence. I also use wish lists and idea list and shopping lists to keep track of my ideas for gifts for the kids and others in the family. And I love it when other relatives have wish lists because I can feel confident I am giving that person exactly what he or she wants. It's really handy.
For a long time, the kids didn't even know these wish lists with their names existed. I kept it out of their realms intentionally because I was trying hard not to promote consumerism in them - even though I was using a consumer site to keep things organized. Oh, the irony. At any rate, I kept a limited number of items on each list, all carefully selected, and nothing had high price tags.
About a year ago, I let Alfs in on my little secret. He saw me updating the lists prior to last Christmas so I had to come clean. He then helped me choose and add a few items for his siblings. It was fun. With almost zero discussion, he understood the purpose of the wish lists.
(Too much) input from the kids
When Woody caught wind of the wish lists several months later, I figured since things with Alfs had gone so well, it would be fine. Not quite. Between the age difference and the personality difference, the wish list experience was quite different. Add to that, I also made the mistake of revealing the password for the pages. One day, weeks later, I happened to look at the wish lists, and...Woody's was four pages long and full or pricey Lego set and games for a game system we don't have! I spent several long minutes deleting items. And deleting some more.
Woody and I had a long talk about wish lists, consumerism, want versus need...and greed. I explained that the point of these lists was not a complete inventory of everything he could possibly want, but sort of a summary of things he'd really and truly like and use, with consideration given to cost.
He seemed to get it. But then a few weeks later, I looked again, and the wish list was three pages long again (albeit mostly paperback books). This time I changed the password. And we talked again.
Responding to advertising
Somewhere during all of this, Sunshine figured out that there was a wish list in her name. When she happened to see an ad - print or television - for a toy, she she'd exclaim, "Mommy, I want to add that to my wish list!" At first I tried to ignore it, hoping it was a short phase, but it persisted. Part of it is the phase of being more aware of advertising and responding as such, but there's also an opportunity and a time for teaching here, and that's exactly what I am trying to do.
Just as I had the discussion with Woody about why we have the wish lists and wanting things and needing things, I am doing the same with Sunshine - but on her level, of course. I don't want to take away the fun of wishing for some fun toys, but I do want to bring balance into the picture. I think she gets it as much as she can. Now when she sees an ad and exclaims, "I want that! Add it my wish list!" I respond with a shake of the head and, "Probably not, sweetie." She'll look at me for a moment, then seems to remember our talks and says, "Okay, Mommy."
Being a kid, especially during the holidays and birthdays, should be about fun. I think they should get some of the toys they want (within reason) - but they definitely shouldn't get all of them. Even in the fun of wanting and receiving there can be some balance and thinking about the people around them.