Good Lessons from Bad Economy

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I’m waiting for someone to write the book “Economic Meltdowns for Dummies.” Until they do, I may never understand the relationship between the “for sale” signs in my neighborhood and my possible post-retirement career as a Wal-Mart greeter.

I keep watching the news to try to figure it all out, but the other day I saw a story that says even the experts aren’t sure what will happen next. So I guess that makes me an expert, too.

Only a few weeks into the economic crisis, we’re seeing a trillion stories about how to live with less and make due without expensive extras. (I say “a trillion stories” because who really knows what “a trillion” looks like?) I’m always on the lookout for how the news of the day impacts families, so I’m focused on news stories about how moms and dads should talk to their children about the economy and its impact on daily life.

According to several news stories, parents across America find themselves in a new and unfamiliar situation – denying their children the material goods that define happiness in our consumer-driven culture. Apparently, most children and teens are accustomed to getting everything they want, even in families that can ill afford a lifestyle of parental largesse.

Not only that, I read an article that said the spending patterns in families are so entrenched that teens today generally expect to get all the stuff they want. And here’s the kicker: When they don’t get what they want, they’re so snarky and resentful that they essentially bully their parents into submission.

Only a generation ago, children who were demanding and ungrateful and who got everything they wanted generally were known as “spoiled brats.” Today, those sorts of children sport T-shirts that say “Princess” as they head to the mall, designer purse in hand.

No wonder parents are at a loss now that they must rein in family spending. They’re forced to use a word they’ve never used before: No.

Children are creatures of habit, after all, and if it’s their habit to announce a desire for some new gadget or apparel item or pair of high-end sneakers, and our habit is to pull out the credit card and make our children happy, we’re facing a rocky road ahead.

On the other hand, if that is the case I’m thinking this economic crisis didn’t get here a moment too soon for America’s families.

From all the news stories I’m reading, it appears we’re raising a generation of materialists, children who define themselves by the stuff they own and by what others think about the stuff they own.

The experts all say it’s time for some age-appropriate talks with our children about money and materialism. By age-appropriate, they mean don’t attempt to explain to your 5-year-old the impact on equities of those failed mortgage-backed securities.

Rather, they’re recommending we parents impose a little bit of reality on our children, explaining that simply wanting something doesn’t create a line item for it in the family’s budget.

Will children be unhappy when parents say no to requests and even resist the begging and pouting that generally get kids exactly what they want? Of course they will.

Then again, if we raise an entire generation of children who never are told “no,” we’re looking at a whole lot of future adults whose economy will make this one look like happy days, indeed.

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