8 Tips for Smart and Sane Holiday Shopping

Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media editor

Now that Black Friday starts at many stores on Thanksgiving night, holiday shopping madness is in full swing even before you put away the leftovers. And many of the season's strongest sales pitches are directed right at kids.

Is it possible to partake of only those holiday rituals you love -- twinkling lights, yummy treats, peace on earth -- and nix the parts you don't -- escalating prices, overflowing wish lists, unrealistic expectations, crying, begging, and whining? We think yes. But you'll need to start training yourself and your kids now to think more critically about holiday marketing messages, and make a concerted effort to replace them with your own. Here's how:

Before Things Get Too Crazy

Be on ad alert. This holiday season, marketers will be using social media, websites, and viral ads to capture your kids' attention. Kids under 7 can't distinguish between ads and other content, and even older kids can be tricked by ads masquerading as games. Help your kids identify ads by pointing out how they're designed to get your attention and sell you something.

Teach kids to look at ads critically. Shiny trucks, winking dolls -- all made possible by special effects. Help your kids identify the tricks of the trade that make products seem better than they really are.

Break the brand habit. Legos, Nike, Nintendo -- brand names are big in kids' worlds. But they're not always the best. Be on alert for name-brand items on your kids' wishlists. Talk about how companies develop brand loyalty by selling an image. Does the item they want really do what they think it does?

At the Store

Think through tech purchases. From the Kindle Fire to the iPad Mini, handheld electronics are the hot new toys for kids this year. But many families get talked into expensive products their kids may not want or need. If there's any doubt in your mind, consider giving your kid an "IOU" for a gadget of their choice at a price maximum so you can shop for it together later when the pressure's off (and prices might be lower).

Make use of retailers' "give back" programs. Many retailers - from Safeway to Macys - offer customer donation programs that turn small donations -- a dollar or two at checkout -- into big amounts for charities. These programs provide a convenient way for you and your kids to help out at the holidays.

Buy books. Publishers release special books around the holidays that often get overshadowed by flashier, pricey presents. But the gift of reading -- from picture books to box sets of popular series -- are an ideal way to work reading into your kids' winter vacation.

At Home

Focus on what matters. Don't do the mall-crawl this year. Get your kids into the holiday spirit (and override consumerist messages) with homespun fun. Take a trip to see your town's lights and decorations. Take time to talk about what the holidays mean to your family and why they're special.

Play "giving" games. At sites like We Give Books and Free Rice, your kids can actually make a difference in the lives of children around the world just by reading and playing!

Read more from Common Sense Media
The 2012 Feel-Good Gift Guide
Holiday Movie Guide: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You
Tips for Managing Holiday Gifts from Grandma

About Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, go to:www.commonsense.org.