My young visitor seemed especially happy with his brand-new cell phone, the kind that does just about everything, from surfing the Internet to text messaging. In a state of technological bliss, he was attempting to send a text message right in the middle of the session. "Wait a minute", I said. " We've got work to do. That can wait." Then without even looking at the keys, he punched out the last few words of the message and sent it. He went on to tell me that he had gotten the phone from his parents. Not for any special occasion, other than he had lost his old phone. I learned that that particular phone cost his mother and father about $300.
As I did when $200 dollar basketball shoes became the norm, I wondered why a teenager needed such an expensive cell phone. Back in the day it had been Chuck Taylor basketball shoes and a stereo. They had preoccupied my thoughts of how I wanted to spend my parents' money or the extra money I earned from odd jobs. I realize times are different. Chuck Taylor's don't get the job done anymore, but children still need to appreciate the value of money and learn early to work for it.
By no means did I grow up poor, but I was conditioned to appreciate the importance of earning money. Somewhere in my training I received a message that love was given for who you are and money was earned for what you do.
We are entitled to receive love, not money. Many parents I meet have a hard time teaching this message. For a variety of reasons, they have been unable to help their children feel loved without feeling the need to give them stuff. Some feel guilty and buy their children's acceptance. Maybe they were divorced and felt responsible for their child's suffering. Others try to make up for the time they are unable to spend with their children because of work or other commitments. Many more just cannot say no effectively. Problems occur when parents want to be perceived as their child's best friend or money is used as a bribe.
In order to teach our children about the value of money and help them avoid growing up with a sense of entitlement that will cause them a great deal of resentment and disappointment, we need to be clear about our own beliefs.. What is money for? Happiness, self-esteem, retirement, enjoyment, survival, savings, charity, just to name a few. How is it earned? Is it free? Is it made, stolen, or, borrowed? All of the above-mentioned purposes for money may apply at different times depending on your earning power, resources and age.
Once we determine our own values about money, we can decide how to teach our children. We can also determine where and when our "No's" will be enforced. When money or material stuff is given for nothing too often, a child may learn to feel entitled. To avoid this, parents can develop a system that will allow their children to earn money beginning at an early age. One method that is very easy involves making a list of jobs that need to be done around the house after all the chores are done. These jobs need to be done every other week or every month. They may include weeding, deep cleaning, painting, cleaning the garage, or washing cars. In my opinion it is important to make chores separate from paid jobs because doing chores helps develop personal responsibility in taking care of the family home.
As soon as they are old enough, require them to get a job. The experience of job hunting is invaluable. It requires good social skills, organization, and humility. Keeping a job also teaches life lessons that are hard to get anywhere else. Giving children unconditional love and teaching them a good work ethic will help prepare them for the adult world. Giving them whatever they want whenever they want it will set them up to fail and miss out on the self-worth that comes from paying your own way in the world.