Fair Expectations With Gift Giving and “Thank You’s”
Dr. Seth Meyers
Responsibilities & Values
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More than ever before, actual mail that gets delivered to the actual mail box is rare. In fact, these days the only thing we seem to get in the mail are bills or cheap mailers promoting a new pizzeria or a dry cleaners. When it comes to giving gifts to children who are not your own – either the kids of friends or even nieces or nephews – do you expect a thank-you note in return? More importantly, do you get upset if you don’t get the proper acknowledgment? A good rule to remember with gift-giving is that you shouldn’t give a gift unless it is truly given altruistically, meaning that you sincerely want the recipient to have it. If you give a gift and get upset about it, it means that you are highly principled about certain social conventions. You practice them because you think it’s the “right” thing to do, and you have expectations about being acknowledged for your generosity.
What is a reasonable way for teenagers to say “thank you?”
Because the use of daily mail seems antiquated – especially to teenagers today to who have probably never had a reason to rely on it before – I have found that a reasonable social expectation for a teenager receiving a gift is to either write a thank-you note or place a quick phone call to say “thank you.” Because most teens won’t want to call another adult on the phone, they will usually opt to write the note instead.
The real problem with gift-giving
This issue is an important one because it brings to light a much deeper issue in our society today: So much of gift-giving is done out of a sense of obligation and not out of a sense of altruism. If you find yourself getting upset because someone didn’t acknowledge your gift, it means that the recipient – or the recipient’s parent – doesn’t assign the same importance to thank-you notes or acknowledgments that you do. Sadly, so many people give gifts not because they have the money or truly want to, but because they feel they should.
What to do after the fact – when a gift you have given was not acknowledged
I’ll share a personal anecdote that relates perfectly even though the situation I’ll describe is about an interaction with an adult. This past year, I left a gift in the mailbox for the mailman and never heard anything in response. Months later, I saw him as he delivered the mail and I asked him if he ever received it. He said that he did, but still he did not take the opportunity then to say “thank you.” For obvious reasons, I won’t be giving him another gift this year at Christmas, but my asking him about it was my way of communicating that I found it odd that I left a gift for him and never actually got confirmation that he even received it. If you give a gift to someone else’s child – regardless of whether it’s the child of a neighbor, coworker or even relative – be a responsible adult and deal with it directly. Send an email or make a call and say, “I wanted to check in because I never heard anything in response to that gift I gave, and I wasn’t sure if it he or she liked it or not.” By addressing the issue this way, you aren’t attacking the parent or child, but you are indirectly educating that parent about what your expectation is when you go out of your way to spend your hard-earned money on someone else. Hopefully, by communicating better with each other, we will all learn to frustrate each less and appreciate each other more.