Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Child And Money. Is That A Happy Combination? Thoughts Of A Concerned Parent

One of the benefits of social networking is that many friends and acquaintances can be made aware of a personal problem and weigh in on how to deal with it. Of course, advice is there to be taken or left. One of my friends, has had a lot of advice and a lot of thinking to do about how to deal with childrens' demands and if money can help resolve the issues. The following is her story.


By Lisa Pitt

Recently, I was walking through the store with my daughter who has come to be my shopping companion. This is mainly because she is the only one of my three children who acts partially civilized in public, at least when she is not under the influence of sibling pressure to act out. If you've ever walked by me and witnessed my blood pressure peaking as my offspring peel off clothes, spin around on the floors, and enthusiastically instruct each other in high pitched screams to conduct full throttle mayhem, then you will understand that this is as good as it gets for me. But lately, a problem has developed.

As we wheeled through the aisles, I perused and price checked, listening half heartedly to her chatter. She started grabbing items of necessity only to her, and then found her way to the floor after I refused to put her within arms' reach of shelved merchandise. "Mommy!!! I want this... I need that... ooohhhh, I want one of those.... can you hand me that...." I incredulously replied "No" to each request but then wondered silently if I was the source of this behavior. I've gotten into the bad habit of purchasing her little low cost items she puts in the basket. I do it so often, it's an unconscious habit. Now she has the expectation that I WILL buy her something whenever we run to the store. I've created a shopping monster and self replication is obvious down to the genetic level.

So how and why has this generation of children become adamant consumers? In the past, we could blame commercials. But in fact, there may be even greater influences in the home. Dennis made an excellent comment in a recent discussion that made me reexamine the issue. Children are mimicking our behavior to a much greater degree than what they see on television. In fact, it is quite ordinary to see an infant attempt to use a credit card swiper. While it was once said that imitation was the highest form of flattery, it can also be the basis for a lifelong bad addiction.

Contemplating this question, I returned to our recent discussion about the value of material possessions to children. The conversation started out of my frustration to get my children to move their bikes and scooters into the garage. Each evening, I found myself indulged in the task of caring for their things by putting them out of harm's way. My anger erupted and I concluded that perhaps their things should disappear for a few days and then they'll value their possessions a little more.

Thus, our discussion began. One friend replied, "Good Luck!" while another responded "Sometimes that worked for me. Sometimes, I just moved on to different stuff." I soon found myself in good company as a friend commiserated, "OMG, this sounds like our world and it just makes me crazy. When threatened with the possibility of losing their stuff, their attitude is *shrug* I'm sure someone will buy us another one....arrgh.

As adults, we work to acquire things that we have to pay for with money, not smiles and hugs and good behavior, but hard earned cash. To that notion, my friend's son responded, "I don't get it. That just doesn't make sense." From a child's point of view, is life filled with brightly colored every abundant Monopoly and Pay Day money? To that Dennis remarked that I should make bringing in toys a condition for next activity. He added that he is not keen on bargains like this, but they may work. Another friend chimed, "Are they old enough for an allowance? My parents used to dock mine when I did stuff like that; quite effective as I recall...wait, did I leave my scooter outside..."

Dennis took them all on in his response with the following: He asked one friend:

"'Threats' are of course confrontational; kids figure it out quickly and faster than most adults, who get caught up with values that kids don't have. Money? What's that? Most adults don't understand the relationship between income and spending. Need I mention the US personal debt/credit card 'crisis'?”

To me, he noted that “Most actions flow based on seeing clear benefits. What ever that is for the kids, that's what will work best. It may be that they care less about the bikes than you do, so logically YOU should show you care. You define failure as achieving what you want but with your effort not theirs. How have the kids defined 'failure' or 'success', if at all? Think on...Whose gain/loss is more important? Economics IS about choice. On allowances, it's very funny for people who did not live all of their lives with a lot. Kids in say sub Saharan Africa with not much at all also give problems--but different ones. But money cannot become a factor in solving that, because 'spare' money is not available (US$1 a day does not stretch far). Interesting exercise: think how you would solve a problem if you did not put a price on it. Strip it to its essential. When money enters a relationship does it not get tainted? If not, what is the issue with...You know where I'm going, right?”

There were many things to contemplate in his response. But I noted that children DO know things cost money and that adults have to pay for the items, either party needs or wants. That's why my children ask if I don't have enough money when I tell them I won't buy something. So I guess it’s already part of the equation. What's funny is that they don't see cash that much because I always use debit/credit cards. In reviewing the responses I noticed that people were providing anecdotes on a theme Dennis raised. What is the value of money or the worth of objects to children? Can they get their material desires fulfilled by people other than their parents, will it hurt their prospects of buying more things, or will they even care the next day given the abundance of personal items possessed by little people today. Then Dennis asked an interesting question, "Do they really know the difference between $10 and $1000? Can they point to things and say "That costs $x"? If so, send them to work for the US Federal Reserve or the US Treasury."

"What a kidder Dennis is," I thought. But then again, perhaps more can be said about the relationship adults have to money and how it influences children. I recalled a millionaire who had to tell his children he would not buy them expensive toys after purchasing a high priced luxury vehicle. Do as I say... not as I do applies here. And similar to children, adults can cherish items that have little or no monetary value. So what do we make of how pennies are worthless to adults and prized possessions in the hands of child? And how many instances can one recall of a child unwrapping a present and playing with the paper not the toy?

Another friend weighed in that she was giving her children allowances because, "I wanted them to understand what $$ is worth in their own terms...so they have to save half towards a goal, and they can spend half on WHATEVER they want to (although if it's junk food, I don't let them eat whatever they want...that's another story). Now when I want results I attach financial penalties to noncompliance and you should see them jump!!!"

I think that children want money just like adults because it allows them to have the material and necessary items they desire. They witness the joy we have when acquiring new things and the dismay we show when we can't afford something. The Mini Me rebirthed in a shopping cart. In recalling last week's shopping trip, my daughter's comment that I should just ask one of the other shoppers for money in order to buy her something that I stated I could not afford seems to make her an excellent candidate for employment with the US Treasury. Hmmm... works for me as well.

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