The Atlantic

The Christmas Dilemma: How Much of a Kid’s Wish List Should Parents Oblige?

A conversation with the sociologist Allison Pugh, who studies why children want what they want and how moms and dads navigate those desires
Source: Paul Hackett / Reuters

A little more than a decade ago, the sociologist Allison Pugh spent three years studying parents and children at three elementary schools—one low-income public, one affluent public, and one private—in Oakland, California. Pugh wanted to understand what it is that kids want, why they want those things, and how parents decide whether to fulfill their kids’ wishes.

I sat with kids in classrooms and after-school programs, while they did homework and biked and knitted and played games,” Pugh says. “I tied shoes and turned jump ropes and caught footballs. I was with them while they sold lemonade and bought birthday presents, when they went to the library and to parades.” In addition, Pugh interviewed 54 of the children’s parents. Her research was published as a book, Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children, and Consumer Culture, in 2009.

I spoke with Pugh about her work recently, and an edited

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