MONEY-SMART KIDS


In Praise of Mean Parenting

Janet Bodnar

Don't be afraid to say no to your kids, even if it makes you unpopular.



Let's hear it for mean parents:

  • Des Moines mother Jane Hambleton recently made headlines by selling her teenage son's car after she found alcohol under the front seat. "Totally uncool parents, who obviously don't love teenage son, selling his car," read Hambleton's newspaper ad. "Call meanest mom on the planet."

  • Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Moore lamented that his two teenage sons were so addicted to video games that they exhibited "classic withdrawal symptoms" when Mom and Dad tried to limit screen time. Moore was proud to report that he had rejected his 6-year-old son's pleas for a PlayStation. "He pouts that we're the meanest parents in the world," Moore wrote.

It speaks volumes for the state of parenthood today that Hambleton's stand is considered newsworthy, or that Moore feels isolated in his refusal to buy his son a video game system when "Wii's were such hot sellers that they weren't available at any price." But there are plenty of us meanies around.

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When my kids were younger and Nintendo was a novelty, I held out on buying any system until John, the oldest of my three children, was in eighth grade. That first PlayStation turned out to be one of the greatest Christmas surprises in our family (my kids couldn't believe I had caved). And by that time John had gotten over his earlier fascination. He enjoyed playing games, but was never addicted.

Peter, my youngest, was much more into games; every year several of them turned up on his Christmas list. Until this year. Now a college freshman, Peter e-mailed me his Christmas list, which included a boom box, sweatpants and several DVDs.

"What, no video games?" I e-mailed back. "All the new games are for PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, neither of which I have," Peter responded. "I play them when they're around, but they're not worth the money I'd have to shell out for them."

"You mean you're not hankering for a Wii?" I replied, practically offering to buy him one. "I don't dislike the Wii," he wrote. "I just wouldn't spend money on it."

Well, if Peter wouldn't spend his money, why should I spend mine? Maybe it was years of managing his own money, or losing interest as he got older-or maybe he just didn't get my hints. But, as he put it, "it seems that video games have passed me by."

The moral of the story, which I've learned from 15 years of writing about kids and money, talking to hundreds of parents, and raising my own children: Parents have power. You have more influence on your kids than their peers or the media. Don't be afraid to say no or to intervene.

And you'll get lots of moral support from the rest of us meanies.




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