Say I love you By Being Negative

Favorite food!Remember when you were a little kid? When you had wants, needs, or desires, you had only to go to your parents (or maybe grandparents) with your requests. If you wanted a giant dill pickle at your older brother’s little league baseball game, or if you wanted to play a smokin’ hot game of skee ball at Six Flags so you could win that giant Garfield stuffed animal, or if you wanted another bag of Skittles, all you had to do was ask. If one parent said no, you went to another, changing your technique just a little. If you got two no’s, then you possibly changed tactics and tweaked your methods until one parent caved in and said, “Yes! Now go play!” What you learned was: Ask loudly enough, long enough, with the right tone and inflection, and maybe with some tears welled up in your eyes … and you get what you want.

Kids learn a lot of things this way. Mostly they learn to manipulate, but worse than that, they learn that money has no limit. And even though that obviously isn’t true, that’s how it seems to an 8 year old’s mind. If you’re like me (or my wise father!), you’ve probably said, “Money doesn’t grow on trees, ya know.” But why should a child think there’s anything wrong with the money supply? If he or she uses the right technique, the right tactic, at the right time, money always seems to appear. It’s like magic.

Kids grow up, they always do, and they bring these jaded beliefs with them into adulthood. It’s a something for nothing mentality. Consider exhibit A: state lotteries. Governments have learned that, even when the odds are astronomical, even impossible, people will shell out cold hard cash in the hopes of getting something for (practically) nothing. Exhibit B is this crazy bail out of banks and insurance companies and wooden arrow manufacturers and car makers. The US Government has fostered this foolish mentality by meddling in the marketplace and essentially keeping free markets from working (in a free market, inefficient, dumb, stupid firms go out of business, they aren’t bailed out). Again, something for nothing. Maybe Dire Straits had it right all along.

If we only ask the right person, ask the right way, or ask when they’re “in a good mood,” maybe we’ll get what we want without having to really do anything for it. The reality is that all financial resources cost somebody something. There is no such thing as a “free lunch.” Yet, we learn at an early age that perhaps there really is something for nothing out there and we spend our entire lives pursuing that illusion. It’s all a lie.

The lessons:

Teach your children that nothing in life is free. Better yet, learn the lesson yourself first. Everything, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g has a cost associated with it and someone (you, me, a faceless company, a slew of taxpayers, a colony of leprechauns) has to pay that cost. Back almost 19 years ago, I wrote out the largest check of my life to pay for our honeymoon cruise. I remember shaking as I wrote it! Later, when my new bride and I were on board, she remarked, “Isn’t this ‘free’ ice cream social great?” I just said to her, “It isn’t free honey, it’s included.”

Teach your children that you set boundaries for them because you love them. There’s nothing wrong with the giant dill pickle (that’s been sitting in that jar since last season) or another bag of Skittles, but when they ask in a way that probes for a weakness, anticipating your NO response, you are teaching them that there’s no end to the money when you cave in. I taught my children this concept a few weeks ago at the Alabama vs. Arkansas college football game (the Tide rolled 49-14 btw). I told them they could spend their $10 on whatever they wanted, food, sodas, souvenirs, or whatever, but that when it was gone, it was gone. There was an end to the money supply. They learned the economic principle of “scarcity of resources” pretty fast. And no, we didn’t cave in when they asked for more, though I did encourage them to pool their remaining resources and share those nachos.

Why is it so difficult to say no to our kids? I know I want them to enjoy a fruitful and fulfilling life, full of wonder, joy, play, and curiosity. Do I think that “things” will accomplish those goals for them? I’d like to think I didn’t, but I wonder about myself sometimes.

photo credit: Graham and Sheila

[tags]children, kids, learn, learning, lessons, life, love, economics, credit, accomplishment, parents, parenting, teaching, money, goal, goals[/tags]

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