Thursday, September 16, 2004

Kids and Money

This column by Ruben Navarette struck me as on target:
* * *
Now, as I get ready to become a parent, what scares me is the thought that my children might one day hang out with kids who have BMWs and $1,000 handbags, who run up their parents' credit cards and still demand more.

There is reason to worry, according to a recent cover story in Newsweek. A lot of parents can't say no to their children's demands to buy them more of this and newer and more expensive versions of that. Parents are even flocking to daylong seminars where experts tell them how to stand up to their kids, how to say no to their demands and how to hold firm.

* * *

Not long ago, after a speech to a local business group, an Anglo gentleman stood and asked me what our society should do about poor black and Hispanic kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Nothing, I told him. Leave them alone. Whatever you do, I said, don't try to rope them into some government welfare program. The disadvantaged kids — at least some of them — will find a way out of their circumstance, I said. Chances are they'll do what poor people and immigrants have done for generations. They'll study hard, work long hours and push themselves forward.

If you really want to worry about someone, I said, worry about the kid living comfortably in the suburbs. The spoiled child who had every toy and modern convenience growing up, who never bothers to get a summer job or do chores around the house, and who still gets a new car at 16. Worry about the kid whose parents are too busy providing for him to spend time with him, and who try to make up for their absence by giving him money and buying him things. What does society have to offer to the kid who has everything?

It's funny. Sixty years ago, my grandparents worked in the fields from dawn to dusk to make sure their kids didn't go hungry. And now, surrounded by modern conveniences, what concerns me is how to raise my children so that they will be hungry for success.
Too many parents think of their role as providing material goods to their children. Isn't it much better for children to be poor but honorable as opposed to rich but spoiled?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"at least some of them" really cannot be used this way. See for example:

Don't worry about the burning house. The inhabitants - at least some of them - will get out in time.

If "the disadvantaged kids will find a way out of their circumstance", then indeed we don't need to do anything. I don't agree with the premise, but at least the argument is sound. If "some the the disadvantaged kids will find a way out of their circumstance", the question is how many. And if it turns out that some means less than half, we have to at least consider if we can do something about it.

In general you can argue that welfare programs are wrong because they don't solve the problem. But you cannot - or shouldn't - argue that they are wrong because there is no problem in the first place. That is in almost all cases just plain wrong - factually and morally.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

Well, the main point here is that if there is a "problem in the first place," as you put it, it's really with those rich and middle-class kids who end up spoiled brats, which to my mind is a worse outcome than almost any amount of impoverishment short of actual starvation. My grandmother, for example, grew up in a family of sharecroppers. Her family was so desperately poor that she spent some time actually living in a chicken house while her father picked cotton on someone else's farm. But she grew up to become a hard-working, decent, and admirable human being -- unlike others I've known who grew up in vastly greater material comfort.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe there are some suburban children as you describe, but the typical upper middle class child like mine and yours (I am a lawyer in a big New York firm) is actually in a very hard-working and competitive environment from an early age. For example, already by fifth grade there have been a few girls asked to leave my daughter's private school because they couldn't handle the work, my daughter herself was cut from her soccer travel team, my daughter really doesn't have any free time from 7 am to 7 pm, what with tutoring (so she can keep up in school), a lower level soccer team, piano lessons etc. At the same time, with a family income of $500,000, are we supposed to pretend that she can't have a ipod, or whatever? Upper middle class Americans, and their children, are not slackers.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Anonymous 1 again, not Anonymous 2:

Stuart: if you are saying that poverty by itself doesn't doom your children, I agree. I'd then add that the "black and Hispanic kids" Navarette talks about are usually disadvantaged not only by poverty, but by a lot of other factors in their social environment besides that. That still means they weren't given a fair go, and it's just callous to say that nothing needs to be done because "some of them will make it".

As for the spoiled upper middle class brat, I suggest the veil of ignorance test: if you had to give away your child immediately after birth, where would you want it to grow up: in an upper middle class suburb where she might be spoiled rotten, or in a deprived inner-city project? I'd go for the suburbs in an instant.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Elaine said...

Interesting post, Stuart.

I have often observed that the children of very successful people are not only less successful than their parents, but are considerably less successful than their parents. "Success", of course, is a relative term, but I am speaking of young people who end up in dead-end jobs (or in the case of daughters, marrying quickly and becoming homemakers without making the sort of community contributions that their mothers did), aimlessly wandering into adulthood, or simply self-destructing. The children (and oftentimes their spouses) remain dependent on their successful parents, even after they have children of their own.

I haven't yet decided whether I think that this problem is caused by financial over-indulgence, or whether it is simply very difficult for children to be the successful leaders that their parents are. My suspicion is that they are connected: A childhood that demanded character and dignity will create a very specific type of person. Genetics, while significant, won't produce the kind of character that a person needs to be "successful".

Thanks for the posting, Stuart.


11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your point. I grew up in a household below the poverty line. The thing is I never felt poor. I had new clothes for school, an occasional bike, and a a baseball glove when I needed it. The thing was my grandparents(who raised me) loved me, helped me with my homework, and inspired me to push myself to higher education. I held numerous afterschool jobs since I was 12. I graduated with a BS in EE and a top 20 MBA school. It is not the money in the household - it is the support that the family provides. There were a lot of kids whose parents were doctors, lawyers etc. that had the material items but never pushed themselves for more. Maybe it was the fact that the parents had no time for the childen - I am sure there are many factors.

The problem though in a lot of those poor households is the uneducated teenage mother, drunk father or uninterested parents. I tutored for an inner-city school and saw it there. Children who could learn but did not have the support of the parents. They never did he homework(reason: dad said I didn't have to), high absenteeism(mom said I could stay home today).

I agree with your point that money can do more harm than good. It is what goes on in the household itself. The love, caring, time spent in the yard playing catch. The problem with welfare programs is they do not solve the problems in the household itself. They just mask the symptoms.

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