I just got back from a wonderful family trip to Kansas, where my husband and I had the singular experience of walking at night on rural road under a starry sky amongst trees illuminated by fire flies. The combination of black sky, yellow stars, and blinking fire fly lights reminded me how much beauty exists in simple moments. (We did however have to check the road by flashlight periodically for Copperheads, poisonous snakes which could have seriously punctured the beauty of the whole situation. Luckily we saw none.)
While there, I had a great talk with Mellisa, a dear friend from graduate school who works with at-risk teenagers in an affluent area. We discussed how both rich and poor parents can fall into similar traps of failing to prepare their children for long term planning, but for opposite reasons.
Families in poverty are often (by necessity) so focused on immediate, survival-level demands such as how to pay rent or buy food that they may not role model for their children the long term planning behaviors that facilitate success.
When kids grow up seeing their parents spending precious “free time” reading professional literature to get ahead at work, or contributing to retirement and college accounts to prepare for future expenses, they understand how deferring pleasure can be a wise choice.
Without positive role modeling and open conversations at home about cause and effect, kids are lost when it comes to real world decision making.
And kids aren’t the only ones who struggle with real world decision making. According to the Nilsen report (April 2009) the average American carries an annual credit debt of ten thousand dollars!!!!
Meanwhile the children of affluent parents, such as the ones my friend deals with, have the exact same problem that poor parents do. How so? Some wealthy parents are so focused on protecting their children from discomfort (and sometimes protecting their own egos from the pain of others knowing that they have a less than perfect child) that they rob their children of the opportunity to utterly screw up, fail, make amends and learn from their mistakes.
When I was a teenager I once babysat for a wealthy family. The little boy had a brand new Star Wars battery operated toy (this was way back when battery operated toys were rare and expensive). He wanted to take a bath with his toy. I told him he could not, and explained that getting the toy wet would ruin it. The child ignored me and dunked it in the water and then wailed when it ceased working. When his parents returned I explained the situation to his mother and she said, “well that’s okay we can just buy him another one tomorrow.” With a wave of her hand she dismissed her son’s disobedience and destructive behavior.
This is NOT to say that all poor and affluent parents are inept. Only that I have noticed there is a dangerous pattern that exists on both sides of the financial spectrum.
When kids are shielded from consequences they believe they are either powerless, or so powerful that rules don’t apply to them. With no consequences there is no appropriate personal power because behavior, choice and ultimately life itself becomes meaningless.
Just like the poor kid who makes no connection between studying and getting good grades, and those good grades leading to employment opportunities, without a connection between current behavior and future outcome our children are left baffled and at risk.
Let’s clear this up for them by showing and telling about how our current choices influence our future enjoyment.