It’s natural for parents to want better for their children than they had themselves. But increasingly, “better” translates to easy, and while the two words may have some common ground, they actually mean very different things. In fact, it’s very possible for easy to make things worse, because easy doesn’t usually prepare a child for the real world.
In the Book of Proverbs we read:
It’s regrettable that so many people now mostly ignore the Bible. After all, wisdom is wisdom, and it isn’t changed by time and technology. Unfortunately, many people believe that to be the case, that we live in an entirely new world that requires entirely new rules. I disagree.
As the decades have passed since World War II, children are not only showered with more material possessions than ever before, but they also seem to be carrying far less responsibility too. It’s not unusual, for example, for children to have very few household chores. Many never even hold a paying job until they graduate from college. Some have very generous allowances, and few restrictions on their time.
On the surface, it can seem that giving kids this kind of freedom is making their lives better. But is it really? Does that kind of life match the one they can expect in adulthood? Is it unreasonable to conclude that many of the problems being faced by twenty-something’s today – unemployment, under-employment, living at home with parents well past graduation – may have at least something to do with a childhood that didn’t entirely challenge them with responsibility?
Being a good parent doesn’t require making your children’s lives easy. In fact, doing so can be a major disservice. Old school responsibilities and limitations may be just what a lot of kids are missing these days. At the risk of offending more than a few parents, I offer the following suggestions…
Keep allowances to a minimum
An allowance can be an excellent training tool because it teaches children how to handle money. But more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to money. Some kids today have allowances that are either very generous, or come without serious limits. A $5 or $10 allowance is one thing, but $20 or $50 for a 13-year-old can set the wrong expectations.
One of the best money lessons you give your kids is to teach them to do more with less. That isn’t exactly what’s happening with an overly generous allowance. In adult life, they won’t have an allowance, and many may experience tough budget choices they’re completely unprepared to deal with.
It’s not unreasonable to connect chores to allowances, even with very young children. Of course you have to make sure that the chores are age-appropriate, but by requiring chores as part of an allowance, a child learns to connect money and the need to earn it. It’s one of the very best lessons a child can have, but unfortunately it’s one that very few are now being taught.
Let them fight their own battles
The pastor at our church did a sermon on various parenting styles, one of which was the helicopter parent, so named because it describes a parent who hovers over their children constantly, always prepared to swoop in and shield them from the slightest sign of trouble or stress.
That kind of parenting may sound protective and benevolent, but it doesn’t permit a child to experience the bumps and bruises of life. The results can be an 18- or 21-year-old young adult who is high strung and overly sensitive. And why not – they’ve been shielded from stress by the parents all of their lives.
Way back when, when I was a kid, we’d leave the house early in the morning and not come back until nightfall or even later. Was it dangerous? Maybe a little, but we learned valuable lessons in how to survive in the world. Back then, somehow we knew that it was part of our “mission” as children – to go out to the world and find and deal with real life experiences. Many kids are being denied that lesson.
Encourage employment early
Many parents today prefer that their children concentrate on getting their education. But part of an education is learning how to earn a living (If you need help with expanding your income generation options, consider heading over the savingadvice.com forums. They have some great ideas.) In fact, we can properly say that it’s the primary purpose of education. If the child never works until he completes his education, even through college, he will be stunted when entering the job market for good.
Work – paid or otherwise – should always be age-appropriate. But there is a level of responsibility that comes from work that parents and the school system can ever teach. If you are in anyway keeping your child from taking paid work, you can be doing them a major disservice if your goal is to prepare them for adulthood.
Too much stuff is…too much stuff
We all want to give our kids nice things, and there’s nothing wrong with that on a limited basis. But many parents today want their kids to have “the best”. In America, we already have a serious problem in needing to accumulate stuff. But by getting accustomed to having the best stuff early, kids will be accumulators when they become adults, but with a higher-price tag.
It might be a far better lesson to teach a child how to find what it is they want at a lower price. This could be buying off-brand, buying from discounters, or even buying secondhand. That may not make them a hit at school, but it will definitely be a very valuable lesson for their adult lives – again – how to do more with less. That may not be popular with kids these days, but it is closer to the real world they’re growing up into.
One other point…too much stuff can cause a child to put too much emphasis on things. One of the most valuable lessons we can teach our kids is to value people over stuff. But that won’t happen if we’re obsessed with giving them everything, and the best of it at that.
Cluing them in on what’s really going on
Many parents shelter their kids from what’s really going on, either in the world, in the local community, or even in the immediate family. The family could be facing financial stresses, career troubles, family problems and other issues, that the parents don’t share with their children.
You never want to expose your children to more than they can handle, but they do have to have some clue about what’s really happening. The sooner kids realize that real people have real problems, the sooner they can develop necessary coping skills – skills they’ll definitely need as adults.
In addition, a child who grows up insulated from troubles and stress may not develop a sense of needing to help others in distress. After all, if it is his/her primary purpose in life is to be happy, there may not be much room for tending to others.
Responsibility, thrift, self-reliance, and helping others are not qualities that suddenly materializes in a person’s life when they reach adulthood. To one degree or another, they must be taught by the parents. That’s true preparation for real life. By contrast, giving them an easy life is preparing them for a world that does not exist.
Do you see examples around you of kids who seem to have it too easy? Do you think this is contributing to many of the big picture problems our society is facing? What are you doing with your kids – or what can be done with kids in general – that will better prepare them for the real world?
Finally, there aren’t too many good books on how to raise your kids to be financially intelligent. The best one I’ve been able to find is Tom Corley’s Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life. The book us underappreciated – Corely has a tendency to over elaborate, but the great advantage of the book is that it is based on solid data and clearly explains how raise your kids financial intelligence. Pick up a copy on Amazon if you get a chance.
James Hendrickson is an internet entrepreneur, blogging junky, hunter and personal finance geek. When he’s not lurking in coffee shops in Portland, Oregon, you’ll find him in the Pacific Northwest’s great outdoors. James has a masters degree in Sociology from the University of Maryland at College Park and a Bachelors degree on Sociology from Earlham College. He loves individual stocks, bonds and precious metals.