Parents naturally want the best for their children but don’t want to spoil them. It’s not only during the holiday season that parents find themselves caught between giving permission and setting limits. We take kids to the movies, buy them sweets, indulge them with dinners out, and sign them up for out of school activities. Steady incomes, easy credit and a culture of “stuff” makes a parent’s desire to simplify and say “no” that much more challenging.
The holiday season accentuates our fears that we may be training the next generation to be greedy and entitled. Kids may be ill prepared to handle finances efficiently. Over indulging children can lead to “a case of the gimmies” (taken from the popular “Berenstain Bears” book warning us of the negative effect of spoiling our children).
A sense of entitlement — expecting a treat is owed to you — is taught through repetition. Giving children a treat every time you visit the shopette, or a present on his sister’s birthday, or unrestricted rides or free cell phone minutes can lead to a sense of normalcy: “it is normal to have these things given to me.” A sense of appreciation — feeling grateful a treat is given to you — is taught through repetition as well.
One of the reasons we see more spoiled children lies in commercialism and societal pressures. Over 30 years, the dollars spent on marketing to children exploded from around $100 million in 1983 to some $17 billion today. Kids hear and see “buy, buy, buy.”
Children heavily influence family spending decisions. James McNeal, a leader in child marketing, estimates $1.12 trillion is spent on not just food (take a look at most family shopping carts and they will be dominated by “kid food”) but also purchases like electronics, furniture, vacations and kitchen items. One study, conducted almost 20 years ago, estimated that children influenced $9 billion worth of car sales.
Parents often are not aware of the role media and society plays in influencing their family’s spending habits. They also forget that the brain of a child and teenager is much more impulsive and incapable of switching from “yes” mode (e.g. Christmas) to “no” mode (January). That is why parents must adopt consistent, age-appropriate limits with planned treats and purchases.
This is the season to emphasize values about money. Parents teach values more through life experiences, habits and teachable moments and expectations, and less by talking about them.
Pediatrician and Air Force mother of two, Dr. Hilary Stamp, strives for this balance. During the holidays, her children do not watch commercials on TV, and their time spent in stores is limited so they feel less of that materialistic obsession.
“We take them separately to buy a gift for their sibling using their own money,” Stamp said. “We spread the gifts and sweets out over three days. This makes for less overstimulation and ongoing fun for days. (We would) rather spend money to travel instead of toys and get the kids to help plan them. Memories tend to last longer than toys.”
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT MONEY
Actions speak louder than words. Here are some recommendations to teach your children about money and prepare them to be wise in a culture of consumerism.
Model money choices. When kids whine and ask for something, don’t say, “We can’t afford it.” Show them that spending money is a choice and the difference between wants and needs. Instead, use this comment: “We’re not choosing to buy that right now.” Starting around fourth grade, help children see the choice: “We want to spend our money on a trip this month. So we can go to the movies, or we save up for that trip.”
Donate each season. Have children give away their no longer played with items to make room for new ones.
Christmas and birthday gifts should be limited to around three gifts at a time. Allow more than that, and children tend to not appreciate each one. Spread opening more than three gifts out over numerous days. Remember, gifts can be quality time, such as dates or day trips.
Feed others. Once a season pick a charity, neighbor or family friend and have your children help make a meal to drop off or serve them. Say you want them to do something nice for someone else, then help your children come up with ideas of how to treat and give to others.
When it comes to toys, say, “When you give a toy away, then you’ll get another toy from the store,” or, “Yes, you can get a toy at the store. If you spend your own money on it.”
When it comes to chores, say, “We are part of a team, and you are expected to help out.” Assign age-appropriate chores that they must fulfill as members of the family team. Some families have success when children can earn extra money for themselves by doing extra chores after the minimum.
Give an allowance. An allowance program can teach children how to handle money, in addition to a budget for clothes, school supplies, outings and shoppette treats. A program might even include incentives or bonuses for exceptional chores, acts of kindness or work. Let your children decide how and when to spend the allotted money. Consult with them, but don’t command their choices. They will mess up, but the consequences they face will teach them how to make better choices next time.