Good Lessons from Bad Economy

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 them 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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  • Amen, amen, amen, amen, amen, amen!

  • Francis

    I also live in the midwest, Missouri to be exact. I see all the same attitudes even in a small town in the west central part of the state. Families that shouldn’t even be in their own house and are up to their eye-balls in debt with multiple car, atv, and other assorted payments. Their children do not respect others property or authority, but then their parents don’t either. We must keep praying for these families to have a MAJOR conversion. We need God, not things.

  • Warren Jewell

    Hmmm – I remember Mama.

    She had ways at punctuating ‘NO!’ that made that single syllable the ‘presumptive case’ for everything. She had this ‘you-may-ASK-but-then-again-you-may-DIE’ air about her. WOULD she kill any of us – ALL of us? Who wanted to risk finding out? I mean, she may have been anti-Roe v Wade with the idea of ‘why should the doctors have that FUN job?’

    When I was just off on my own as a young newly-wed, former boxing champion Rocky Marciano met my parents incidentally over dinner one night in his favorite (Italian, of course) Chicago area restaurant. He was genuinely affable and cheerful – no arrogance or ego. He had my Mama’s number from the get-go – when she went to powder her nose, so to speak, he told my father that he should ‘never test an Italian Mama’s counterpunch.’ And, L-A-U-G-H-E-D!

    I just know that I never tested Mama’s second swing. And, ‘NO!’ was like the bell rimging . . .

  • Warren Jewell

    Before any go off on the ‘child abuse’ trip, here – when I was eleven years old, I was two inches taller than my mother. Plus, her threats were more terrible than her actions – who needed actions where the threats were believed? And, one threat to her bruiser first-born – c’est moi! – gave the remaining tribe very silent pause.

    I asked for this-n-that – my pygmy siblings – more Italian-sized than me – would get me to ask. But I was never afraid to ask – Mama telegraphed her punches! She had me so ready ‘I coulda been a contenda’ from way back. Not that I’d swing, but I could duck well; good footwork, bouncing from canned-goods to packaged pasta on the shelves. Then SHE’D LAUGH – and could tell who got me to ask because that kid was now two aisles over, running for his or her life.

    I’ll take my Mama and her graphically emphatic ‘NO!’ over today’s hands-off billfold-open parents.

  • momof11

    I think earlier generations of parents found it easier to say “no” to their children and explain the economic basis of the “no” because more families were larger. So much for contraception.

    I read a book about birth order and found it fascinating. We have a generation coming up made up of “only” or “eldest” and “youngest” children and no middle children. This has changed the makeup of society. Birth order and placement in the family affect the personality development of a child and how they handle situations. Oldest child is more likely to be a leader, baby of the family a “spoiled” clown, middle children are the negotiator and peacekeepers. Problem is not everyone can be a leader. We need the workers and peacekeepers who are more naturally and easily formed in the large family. Maybe we would all be better off if God were determining the size of families?