Dear Kid Whisperer,
Most of my 11 year old son’s friends have more money than we do. I don’t want him to feel badly about this, so I make sure that he has everything that he wants, which is pretty much everything that his friends have. Lately, it’s been hard to “keep up with the Joneses.” With Christmas coming up, I am getting stressed out. I feel like I am failing him as a parent. I can’t afford this anymore. What do I do? –Maggie, Oak Park, Illinois
Your outlook on money and self-esteem is going to lead to a world of hurt for your son no matter what you buy for him. You have fallen prey to a consumerist culture that cares nothing for you nor for your son. It only wants to bleed you dry of your limited resources. Sadly, you have been tricked into believing a bunch of nonsense.
On what stone tablet is it written that children whose parents don’t buy them everything will feel badly about themselves? Did the children of the Great Depression become whiny adults who went for Freudian analysis every week for 50 years trying to “find themselves?” No, they became the greatest generation that built the strongest economy in the world and saved us all from having to learn German in a hurry.
You are drastically underestimating your kid. He will be very resilient as long as you allow him to suffer enough in order to become resilient. The horrible irony of this is that if you continue to shield him from the “embarrassment” (those quotes are sarcastic) of not having everything in the world, you will have a kid who will actually need everything in the world to feel happy.
If you wipe that ridiculous paradigm out of his consciousness now, he will have to exist in the real world with the rest of us. In the real world, we have to spend our own money for the things that we have. It is only in the real world that the potential for happiness exists. I suggest that you introduce your son to this reality tomorrow morning, at the first light of dawn.
This is how I would do it.
Kid Whisperer: Hey… Psst. Wake up.
Kid: What time is it?
Kid Whisperer: It’s super early, but I’ve been accidentally ruining your life, and I wanted to apologize and I wanted to tell you about some changes that are going to allow you to be a happier person.
Kid: Is this really happening?
Kid Whisperer: Yes. From now on, I’m not going to buy you anything anymore except food, the clothes I want to buy you, and a couple of presents for Christmas and a couple of presents on your birthday. Also, since you are 11, I am going to give you 11 dollars every week to use in any way you want, as long as you buy things that I feel cannot hurt you. Just so you know, this means no candy and no violent video games that will injure your body and brain.
Kid: Are you going to keep buying me all of the brand name clothes that I like?
Kid Whisperer: No.
Kid: Why not?
Kid Whisperer: Because I don’t have a lot of money. It’s my job to buy you the things that you need. It is your job to buy the things that you want.
This way of doing things is very likely to cause your son to consider saving money, figure out ways of making more money, and perhaps pursue a career that will allow him to buy the things he needs and wants.