Do children born to parents who don't have much money actually have certain advantages over kids born in more affluent homes? Quite possibly.
In my last post, I talked about the book David and Goliath: Misfits, Underdogs and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell, and how he discusses the need for children to experience failure—and how it builds resilience. In this same book he also wrote about the difficulties of both parents who struggle financially and those who are well-off. According to Gladwell, parents on the low-income side have tough times, obviously. Their children do without certain luxuries and sometimes necessities. But could this have a plus side? These children, Gladwell explains, learn the value of things and may even begin working at an early age to support the family. They learn a work ethic that many miss, and this is worth a whole lot in life. They may not have access to some educational venues or other means of intellectual growth such as access to a variety of books, but given the right parents and teachers, they can thrive.
Affluent parents, on the other hand, have the ability to give their children all that they need and more of what they want, but is there a downside to this? Gladwell contends that there can be too much of a good thing. If a teen crashes his BMW and then has a new Mercedes delivered the next day, how can he be expected to appreciate anything? In a recent NPR story I listened to, they referred to Affluenza. This describes children who are coddled too much and never experience the consequences of their actions. Parents, wanting to keep their children away from any discomfort, protect them to a fault. These defended children do not develop characteristics that are good for them—or the community at large. When a child asks his struggling parents for something, their answer is typically pretty simple, We can't. With limited finances, there's an objective answer to a child wanting the latest gadget or a new car. The money just isn't there. Parents with more resources, on the other hand, may find themselves in a state of guilt. They can buy it, and all the child's friends have the same thing. Also, there's a certain level of pride a parent gains when his child has the coolest birthday party or walks onto the soccer field with shoes that nobody has ever seen but that everyone now wants.
So, how can parents on any pay scale raise their children to respect money? First, for those who have the means to buy more of what their children want, think about adopting the phrase, "Sorry, if you want that you're going to have to save for it yourself." Just because you can buy them something, it doesn't mean that you should. An over-indulged child is never a good thing. Leave the spoiling to the grandparents. You are working to raise a child with character. Second, consider letting your child earn an allowance. They have routine chores that they do; at the end of the week, you pay them. Money talks and it even talks to children as they plan how they will buy their next item, because you aren't going to do it. You're giving them an allowance, remember? That's the money you would have spent on them anyway, but now they are in control and you can say "no" at the store a lot easier. Next, include them in the financial discussions at an appropriate level. If they ask why they can't have something, tell them you are saving for the family vacation. Even if the two aren't directly tied together, you will be teaching them that you can't have or do everything you want. Saving must be a part of the equation. Finally, know that you're doing the right thing when you tell your child no. While giving them that treat might make you feel good as a parent now, in the long run wouldn't you rather have a child with depth of character? Added bonus: your pocket can remain full and not empty.