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"But Mom, All My Friends Have One!"

Find out how to teach your children about American affluence and social responsibility.

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"But Mom, All My Friends Have One!"

While kids and teens are under tremendous pressure to acquire all those tempting toys and gadgets available, parents are under equally tremendous pressure to buy for them. Studies show that kids are typically exposed to 360,000 ads by the time they graduate from high school.

Many parents find it difficult to say “no” to their children. It's easier to give in and get them what they ask for than have to explain why the child won't get what she wants. This seems to be especially true of parents who don't deny themselves anything. Some parents buy into the notion that their 15-year-old needs his own cell phone because they don't want their neighbor's kid to have something their child does not. The parents' “gotta keep up with the Joneses” attitude spills right over to his kids and the Jones' kids. (Read Giving Teens Money for more information on kids and greed.)

As parents, we know that buying kids everything they want is not a good idea. And it's our job to help our kids understand why that's so.

Living in an Affluent Society

We live in the most affluent society in the world. We're the world's richest people. Our kids spend more pocket money in a year than half a billion of the world's poorest people earn in income.

The problem is, kids who are raised in affluence often don't recognize what they have. They take for granted three meals a day and snacks in between, a good-size house, two cars in the driveway, two or three TVs and VCRs in the house, their own CD players, telephones in their bedrooms, and money in their pockets.

It's difficult to fully appreciate what you have when you only know to compare your wealth with the wealth of those in your immediate circle. And so, when a 13-year-old comes home from her friend's very large house, in which Rachael's bedroom is complete with a complex stereo system, television and VCR, phone with a private number, a walk-in closet filled with clothing, and a computer equipped with Internet access, the 13-year-old is less than satisfied for a time with her smaller bedroom that contains far fewer accessories.

A friend's 12-year-old daughter was disappointed the first time she slept over at her girlfriend's house and discovered that she and Amanda would be sleeping in separate rooms. Karen was expected to sleep in the guest room of Amanda's suite.

As a society, we've grown used to having more. Residential space per American increased from 312 square feet in 1950 to 742 square feet in 1993, according to a report by the Worldwatch Institute.

Affluence is fine, but children must be taught that it's a great privilege and a large measure of good fortune that they live in such an affluent society.

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