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You've been familiar with the phenomenon of childhood materialism ever since your teenager was a toddler and began clamoring for the things advertised between their cartoons.
Unfortunately, while your toddler wanted a $15 toy, your teenager starts asking for far more high-ticket items, like smart phones or cars.
Here's how to deal with it when your teen wants something that is outside their allowance and your budget.
This one is pretty non-negotiable in my book.
I am offering the disclaimer up front that I am not the “fun” parent in our household. I am the mean parent. I wear this as a badge of honor and see no shame in it whatsoever.
When are teen asks for things, I don't even feel the impulse to get it for her instantly. For those of you who do want to spoil your kids and give them everything they ask for, this might take some self-discipline, but hear me out anyway.
The worst thing you can do by spoiling a toddler is to make them into a child that expect to get everything they want. This is unpleasant but has few long-term consequences other than a depleted bank account.
When you spoil a teenager, you are actively sabotaging their ability to care for themselves later in life. It will be this side of a decade from now when they are on their own, balancing their own checkbook, and trying to stretch a too small paycheck to cover too many expenses.
It is your job as a parent to prepare them for this task.
If you equip them, effort free, with everything they could possibly ask for, you are actively sabotaging their expectations for the way the real world works.
Let me say that again, because this is the most important point here:
You are not pampering your child by getting them everything they ask for. You are hurting their chances for success as an adult.
By making your child learn at least part of the money for things when they ask for them, you are teaching in the work ethic that will sustain them when they're exhausted and just want to sleep through their alarm, but they need to get to work by a certain time. Teaching them the connection between hard work and getting what they want is the only thing that will sustain them as adults, before they find their true passions.
Now, I am not suggesting you make your child or in their own food, rent, or textbook expenses as a teenager, or even as a young adult. Some things parents are supposed to buy for their children. It's part of our job.
But when your teenager asks for something that is truly a “want” not a “need”, try to consider it as a perfect opportunity to teach them the skills they will need later in life.
Even if it's through something silly, like taking surveys online, which can even be done on your smartphone, make your child learn part of the money themselves.
This is absolutely essential ability to be functioning adults later on.
P.S. If you have younger children, I’d start reinforcing this behavior early on with some type of chore chart. It works wonders!
If your teen has an excess of material objects already, you can also help them sell something to raise the money to get whatever new thing they want.
This has the added benefit of being much quicker than earning money, most times oh, so if it's something they think they “need right now”, they can use a platform like eBay to get a surprising amount of money in a fairly short amount of time.
If you happen to be on summer vacation, this might also be a great time to have them organize a garage sale or something of that kind. The more creativity they’re forced to use, the better it will be for them.
Remember: your goal here to get them whatever object they're asking for, your goal is to prepare them for adult life. A ruthless land where you have to earn all the money for everything you want, a hundred percent of the time.
If what your child is asking for is of a time-sensitive nature, like money to go on a outing with their friends, or something like this, they might not have time to earn it before the money becomes necessary.
While you can use these as tough love moments for why they should have saved money preemptively, most parents I know, myself included, don't enjoy being that mean.
You can borrow from the concept of annuity loans or home mortgages and allow your child to borrow a specific amount of money for you, creating a payment schedule for them to earn the money themselves at a later date and pay you back, with a token amount of Interest.
Now, it does sound mean to charge your child interest, but this is important because once the initial excitement of getting what they want is out of the picture, most kids casually “forget” they owe you money and if they don't have the incentive to earn the money back right away, it might never happen.
I go back to my initial public service announcement:
Please don't just buy your children everything they want. You're not doing them any favors.
By using things that are clearly “wants” not “needs” to teach your child about responsibility, you are building the muscles they will need to survive in the adult world.
By all means, buy them food, clothes, textbooks, and all the other things that children actually require. However, when they want the newest version of the iPhone, even though their other phone is perfectly good, please make them earn it.
They’ll thank you later.
Founder | Contributor
Liz is a wife, mom, blogger, coder (and unabashed digital nerd), PhD student (and huge psychology geek), workout masochist, and occasional human being. She founded The Stay Sane Mom after marrying into the role of stepmom to a preteen girl (and Instagram addict) and shortly thereafter having her first bio kid (now a toddlernado supreme). Her goal is to provide tools and support to help other capable, sleep-deprived, soul-hungry moms master their domains so they have the time and energy to be more than just 'mom'.
Stay Sane Mom gives support to the over-worked, under-slept, marker-stained, soul-hungry moms of the world, so they can be more than just "mom".
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