How is the economic crisis affecting your family?
Henry’s been listening to NPR, again. “What’s happening with the economy?” he asks. Then: “What’s an economy?”
I can’t imagine how to explain these concepts to my six-year-old. What is happening? What will it mean to him? Before I can explain or attempt to explain, Henry has a more pressing question: “Will you be able to buy me Legos?”
The answer, for now, is yes, we will be able to keep Henry as Lego-ified as he needs to be (within reason, of course). Our jobs, such as they are, are still around; we didn’t have any serious investments because we don’t have enough to seriously invest; as long as we don’t look at our retirement accounts we can sleep at night. We are keenly aware, however, that the Era of Bountiful Legos may soon be at an end. Who knows what looms on the horizon? Who can say what the continuing financial collapse might bring? Does anyone have a paper bag I can breathe into?
Pardon me. I’m okay now. Just had a moment, there.
Needless to say, there are countless people whose lives have been rocked by this economic free-fall, and their children aren’t immune from that stress. But for kids, learning to live with less may not be all bad. This Sunday’s New York Times featured a story about teens dealing with new limits on their spending, at the very least, and real threats to their family’s livelihood, at the most. These teens are used to being indulged, and having their wants as well as their needs met without question. The story quotes a study which found that nearly 75 percent of parents give in to their children’s nagging for new video games. Middle-class and affluent parents give in to their children’s demands, no matter how much the experts lecture that learning to endure the occasional “no” is a valuable lesson that children miss out on when they are given everything their hearts desire. So now that getting everything is no longer possible, and parents have to set stricter limits, might we be ushering in a new era of saner parenting?
It all depends on what happens next. If we are seeing the beginning of a true depression, much about our lifestyles will undergo a radical change. And of course that’s going to affect our children. As one of my friends observed, our kids might grow up to be frugal Depression-era types, the kind of people who save string and re-use tea bags. And really, that’s not the worst thing to be.
Even if the economy does (please oh please) recover quickly and painlessly, this scare has caused us all to take a long, hard look at what we’re teaching our kids about money. Our own Mir Kamin, revered blogger and creator of WantNot.net, was recently interviewed for a story on the economy and its effect on families. “The way you raise fiscally responsible children is by not making money this thing that’s shrouded in mystery,” she is quoted as saying. “If more people did that with their kids, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.”
So: how do you teach your kids about money? For us, we’ve begun by showing Henry how unbelievably expensive Legos are, and helping him figure out ways to save up enough to buy his own. It’s not much, but it’s a start. And you? How have you been affected by the financial crisis? What do you think is going to happen down the line? Do you need to borrow my paper bag?
Published October 17, 2008.
Last updated August 21, 2013.