Keeping Up With the Classmates

Behavior and Discipline, Featured Article, Growth and Development
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With a new smartphone on the market every couple of months and a bevy of products with marketing claims to make us smarter, thinner or richer, it’s hard enough for adults to curtail their spending. But for tweens and teens navigating our increasingly materialistic society, gaining access to the latest gadgets and gear can mean the difference between soaring popularity and eating alone at the lunch table.

Ultimately, refusing to succumb to their child’s every whim and indulgence — whether for financial reasons or otherwise — can be extremely difficult for parents who believe it’s their responsibility to provide the very best for their kids. In the end, though, developing character that is based on substance and not stuff is good for all — mom and dad’s bank account included.

Not sure how to say “no” without being nominated for worst parent of the decade? Read on for tips on how to raise well-adjusted, firmly grounded kids who will actually thank you for your discretion (one day, anyway).

Hear them out.

It may seem counterintuitive to allow kids to continue begging for the $200 designer jeans that every other kid in class in wearing, but it keeps the all-important lines of dialogue open and provides an early example of the adage that we all know to be true: Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

“Emotional intelligence experts advise us that feelings aren’t right or wrong — they just are,” says Bill Corbett, a parent educator, author and producer and host of the television show, “Creating Cooperative Kids.” “Emotions must be felt and released without judgment or suppression. Wanting something is a normal human desire, and we don’t want children to think that wanting is a bad thing.”

When a child moves beyond expressing discontent and begins whining or begging for something, Corbett advises parents against simply saying no and offering up reasons why the child can’t have the particular item. Children are savvy enough to refute every claim, he says, which may cause parents to give in to demands just to stop the pleading.

“Instead of the word ‘no’, I suggest parents use two phrases: ‘I’m not willing,’ or ‘I’m not ready,’” explains Corbett. “Using the first one turns the entire situation around; instead of the word ‘no’ being a charge directed at the child, using ‘I’m not willing’ puts it all on the adult.  And the best situations for using the phrase ‘I’m not ready’ are when the adult is likely to say ‘You’re not old enough… smart enough… big enough… tall enough…’”

Emphasize the important.

Once you’ve allowed your child to freely express his feelings of frustration or discontent, it’s important to emphasize that the true measure of his worth is based on who he is and not what he owns. “Society and the world in general has placed so much value in worldly goods, body image, socioeconomic status, etc., that the true meaning of value in life itself has been missed,” says Dr. Denise Jamison, Ed.D., a life and academic coach. “Through learning about how one genuinely cares about and treats another person, following the ‘Golden Rule,’ purchasing worldly goods for function versus fashion and truly learning the value of a dollar, children can begin to understand that personal value is much more important than societal value.”

To this end, Jamison recommends involving children in volunteer opportunities so that they can experience first-hand how others who are less fortunate are living. “[While] serving as missionaries, volunteering in homeless shelters and soup kitchens or helping out the elderly, children will begin seeing and feeling for themselves what it’s like to not have the best in life, but still be able to survive and live,” she says. “Wearing brand-name clothing, driving expensive cars and having all the high-tech toys means nothing in value when you’re sick, hurt, distressed and need the true value of friends and family.”

Also, since children are more apt to model what we do instead of what we say, it’s important that parents who are themselves struggling with desires to “keep up with the Joneses” address their own issues before trying to convince their kids to do the same. “Parents shouldn’t gossip about others or talk about material possessions,” explains Eirene Heidelberger, President and CEO of GIT Mom, a full-service parent coaching firm. “If they do, their children will absorb that behavior and feel they are inferior.”

Get them involved.

Even after parents have worked diligently to develop character in their children and instill core values, it’s still likely that they may ask for the newest iPhone or some other extravagant purchase. And that’s OK. As adults, we have the opportunity to prioritize the things we want and make decisions accordingly, and we should allow the same for our children.

In her new book, Smart Money Smart Kids, co-written with her personal finance-guru father, Dave Ramsey, Rachel Cruze suggests parents employ a “commission” system in their homes, as opposed to allowances. It gives kids the chance to earn their own money and ultimately decide how they want to spend it. Heidelberger agrees.

“Children who learn the benefit of working towards a goal and earning an item they really want gives them more enjoyment in said item,” adds Heidelberger. “[Parents] set a goal of difficult chores to make the child earn an expensive item over the long haul, and the child will either go for it because they really want it or lose interest because they realize it’s not that important. It’s the parents job to pause and be patient and allow the child to make smart decisions within their parameters.”

A means to an end.

As a mom who raised eight kids on a (very) tight budget, Maria Strini knows how difficult it can be to go against society’s superficial status quo. But with five now grown and living away from home, she can also verify that the struggles were well worth it.

“We made a point not to hand them everything, whether we could or couldn’t,” says Strini of her and her husband’s parenting style. “Cars, cellphones, computers and computer use is a privilege, not something they are owed.  It has not always been easy, but despite the troubles, it was all worthwhile.  They have learned bargaining as an art and the value of family commitment. We have taught them to follow their dreams and shared their journey more with encouragement than monetary help. As I watch my older children in their adult lives, I am overjoyed with the decisions they have made and the lives they have chosen.”

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