When I was a child, my toys consisted of a Nintendo and the outside world. For the most part, I spent my time with the Nintendo, but when I was grounded from that (which happened too often) I had only one other option.
When you see what kids have these days, it’s almost mind-boggling. What used to be a treat or a big deal has now become the expected. And we’re not just talking about the newest gadgets. In the last few decades, technology has come so far that it’s difficult to gauge what is reasonable and what is superfluous. But the spending power of teens is what fuels a lot of advertising in today’s economy.
In many cases, military-grade straight teeth, perfect hair and name brand clothing are no longer luxuries that only wealthy families can afford, but things that families across the spectrum make a priority. Some even go into debt to pay for them.
Who is to blame? It’s hard to pinpoint anyone in particular. There’s the media that influences our children, the children themselves and the parents who enable it. My guess is that a portion of the blame lies with each of those. But don’t expect the media or your children to change on their own. Parents are the last line of defense for some children who don’t understand the value of money and being financially responsible.
Materialism can hurt your children’s future — and possibly even yours. As children grow older and are still chasing the dream life they see in the media, they can lose sight of important future goals and may even come to their parents for support with their necessities. So what can parents do to help their kids change their priorities?
Teach them to serve
One thing that I will always remember about my dad was his service to people in need. He often did it without them knowing, and he often brought me with him. Spending that time with him taught me that true happiness comes from serving others, and you can do it no matter how much money you have.
When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to join a Utah foundation on a trip to Mexico to build a small hospital. Although I never had all I wanted growing up, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw while I was there. I saw grown men who worked all day in fields to earn their meager wages only to come home to a 10 X 5 shanty with only enough room for a makeshift bed and a bucket of dry beans. I saw little schoolchildren whose eyes brightened at the sight of a pencil; something so common in our country. It changed my whole perspective on life — and money. It taught not only that there are more important things in life than having “things,” but also rather than spending my resources on stuff I can use it to help others who need it far more than I do.
Teach them by example
It is difficult teaching your children to avoid the pull of materialism if they don’t have a good example. Take a look at your own habits and determine if you also feel entitled to the things you have. Ask yourself if you are living modestly or if you are wasting too much on things that are superfluous. Don’t enable your children by giving in when they ask you for more things. You may think you are helping them or showing them love, but you are really conditioning them to keep coming back and asking for more; something that won’t simply be done away with when they move out or get married.
With the growing wave of entitlement, it is becoming more and more difficult for parents to stem the tide. At this point, it’s impossible to block all of its sources. However, parents can make efforts to counteract those influences by taking the time to teach their children how to be responsible. For some children, this may be the only way to protect them from destroying their own future. Here are some ideas on how to teach your teen to have financial "cents."
Ben lives with his wife, Kilee, and dog, Paisley, in Arkansas. He has a passion for personal finance, sports, and learning. Ben recently started a blog at www.wealthgospel.com where you can find more of his opinions on personal finance. His life goals are to write about personal finance all day and start a non-profit organization to help others become self-reliant and to find their true potential. On any given day, you could find him eating homemade salsa, picking blackberries, or staying up until 3 a.m. to finish a book.