Childwise is a medical advice column for parents of children ages birth to 21.
By Kathleen Ganster
An iPad for every child, a cell phone at 5, a new car at 16 – it seems more and more children are getting more and more things these days, but what if you can’t buy all of these “things” for your own children? And even if you can afford every want your child has, should you be an overindulgent parent?
Joan Schenker, Director of Community Education at Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry and former elementary and middle school counselor, teaches parenting classes and works with parents on a daily basis.
“This is an issue that I deal with all of the time and one that I have dealt with in my own life,” she said.
Schenker and her husband, Fred, a Lutheran pastor, are also parents of two sons, Mark, 22, and Luke, 20.
“We didn’t always have the money for everything so very early we started teaching our boys what the difference between a need and a want are,” she said.
Schenker said the deal was if it was truly a need, she and her husband would provide it, if it was a want; the boys would have to buy it.
“They learned early on how to earn money and what they would need to do to make a purchase,” she said.
This is a lesson that Schenker teaches in the parenting classes and one she thinks all parents should teach their own children.
When she discussed an underachieving 16-year-old that that she had as a client with her son, Luke, he said that it sounded like the young man never had to work for what he wanted.
“He realized the self-worth and pride that went into the act of working for something,” she said.
Schenker said she has had parents in tears in classes including one mother who told the others in the class “not to make the same mistakes I have,” in giving her son everything.
When children begin to express their wants to their parents, Schenker said reflective listening works very well.
“Listen to what they are saying then say, ‘It seems like you are saying all the other kids have iPads and this seems to be something you want,’ so you really know what they want,” she said, “If it is a want, maybe you can help them find a way to earn it.”
If you aren’t in a position to afford their wants, be honest with your children, said Schenker.
“There is nothing wrong with them understanding the differences in income levels and why some children may have more than them,” she said.
But Schenker stressed the importance of not overindulging children.
“They take more ownership if they have worked for it and will usually value and care for the item more,” she said.
Parents who are financially able may want to help a child with a purchase, but should still have the child earn part of the costs.
Children who have discovered that the more they whine, the more they get will obviously whine more said Schenker.
“We often find that the children who are the most spoiled are those who whine the most,” she said.
It doesn’t mean that you are a good parent by giving a child everything she wants, said Schenker.
“I think we kind of rob our kids when we give, give, give and don’t give them the chance to get appreciation and self-worth from earning things,” she said.
Earning the costs can be by saving an allowance according to Schenker. Her children received a weekly allowance and could use those funds to purchase their wants as well.
“I believe that having an allowance helps them learn about money. We had them save some, they could spend some, then they would share some through donations and church,” she said.
If you find your children giving you a long list of wants while you are shopping, have them write up a list of those wants when you get home. That helps them really evaluate want they really want and what just looked good at the time.
For parents who may find themselves be overindulgent, don’t be afraid to reach out either to a friend or a class or workshop through a resource such as Anchorpoint.
“Catch yourself – your children will really benefit,” she said.
For more information about Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry visit www.anchorpointcounselingministry.org.