If you’re parenting in 2017, you are part of a group spending 100% more money on your children since the 1970s, according to a report from the University of Pennsylvania. The richest among us have simply ramped up the dollar amounts. The poorest are maintaining the same levels, but using a bigger portion of income.
What’s up? Well, basically, we’re terrified of our kids being left behind, and we’re worried missteps will be our fault because we didn’t buy the new equipment, voice lessons, learning toys, organic sleepwear, private acupuncturists, or brand-name sneakers.
Here’s the problem: This spending can very possibly result in the opposite of what we intend, causing emotional scars and irreparably cracking the foundations that can really launch these little guys into greatness. Here are just three age-related expenses we’re better off — financially and emotionally — without.
Newborn: Becoming a parent is the most thrilling and transforming of all life events. Not to mention the one that involves the most responsibility. That’s the attitude that makes a profit-seeking industry salivate. Customers are emotional, inexperienced, terrified, and deeply committed to the cause for which they’re shopping.
To protect against the dangers at bedtime, you’re ready to invest in a baby monitor, big time. Video monitors, sometimes costing $350, make it possible to watch real-time footage of your baby — even sending the action to your smartphone. But what if the real price is compromised security for your family? Because, let’s be clear, these machines can be hacked.
Ohio parents Adam and Heather Schreck told Fox News they were asleep when they heard a man yelling, “Wake up baby, wake up!” at their 10-month old daughter. Heather checked the wireless video monitor and saw the camera was panning, seemingly by itself. Adam raced in and the camera rotated toward him.
Good news, traditional baby monitors are still sold for about $13.95. These are typically handy at night when we’re sleeping and wouldn’t otherwise hear our babies’ cries, nature’s alerts to the fact our child needs something. It’s the audio, not the video, that would notify you the child wanted to be changed or, perhaps, simply some conversation.
Preschool: Companies are everywhere selling us the idea that if our toddlers learn now, they’ll achieve greater academic success later. That’s true! Kids who start ahead stay ahead. That’s why many of us are carting our kids off to learning centers after school and on weekends, taking classes for some $200 a month in which kids as young as 2 do worksheets for math and reading. Success is based on speed and accuracy.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, went before a congressional subcommittee on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics and defended our children’s right to play. Ginsburg points out that unstructured play for kids — letting them create the activity and the rules — is essential to their cognitive advancements and brain development. It enhances their learned readiness, learning behaviors, and their problem-solving skills. It burns calories and it’s intellectually enriching.
Elementary and middle school: Got a talented kid? You’re probably going to seek the services of coaches and music teachers, equipment salespeople and advice counselors, all of whom we as parents believe know better than we do. And who profits from our parenting pursuits? These teachers and coaches dangle carrots of high achievement in front of us. We salivate.
And while there’s certainly a potential upside to cultivating our kids’ talents, there’s also a potential downside. We’ve spent years paying professionals to prop up our kids. They also cheer on our children with the kind of encouragement that fuels our desire to pay for more lessons. While our kids are in full earshot, we’ll discuss with these coaches their exceptional abilities. The coach’s tone implies it’s very real.
Know what else is real? Narcissism. Today, 30% more college-age kids will give narcissistic answers on personality tests than their counterparts in 1982, says Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me. No surprise, we parents are a big part of the problem. Kids with narcissistic personality traits operate with an inflated sense of self, Twenge says. And despite its perception, narcissism leads to more failures in life than it does victories, she adds. Achievements build self-esteem, not the other way around. Success is achieved with hard work and self-control, nothing more.
Self-control — or willpower — can be built for free. It involves simple exercises our kids can incorporate into their regular routines. Sitting up straight at the table, making the bed every morning, speaking in complete sentences, and abolishing the word “like” are all simple actions to force children to concentrate when they might otherwise be operating on autopilot.
“If you want to increase your willpower, make one simple change,” says John Tierney, author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. “Building up self-control for one thing will build it up for anything else.”
Adapted excerpt from Not Buying It: Stop Overspending and Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids by Brett Graff, available from Seal Press © 2016. Graff has written about money and personal finance for major media outlets and her column, The Home Economist, is nationally syndicated and published across the U.S. Learn more at thehomeeconomist.com.