How much control should we parents have over how our children spend their money?
That is the question that has plagued great minds since the beginning of time – or at least has bothered my small mind for the past month.
It all started with the bank statement and the missing $190.00.
That’s how much money my 14-year-old son spent on an on-line game over a one-month period of time.
190 freaking dollars!
This isn’t one of those cases where I could contact the company and ask for our money back. Well, I suppose if he used my credit card I would but it was his debit card, not mine, so I didn’t want him to get the money back.
I wanted him to suffer.
Until this summer I have used my credit card for my younger son’s video games, Xbox games, ITunes accounts, etc. so I could keep track of how much he was spending. He would ask me to charge something, and then he would give me cash. I thought this was a smart way to control his spending. If I thought he was spending too much money I wouldn’t charge what he wanted.
Shortly after he graduated from junior high, however, we got him the “high school” debit card, mostly because the card can be replaced when it’s lost (he’s the kid who walks out the door with a $20 and two blocks later can’t remember where he put it.) I didn’t even consider the possibility that he would be drunk with power and simply add his account number to a computer game and start making charges.
How naïve am I?
I didn’t even realize that he hadn’t asked me to charge anything in ages. Then I saw the bank statement. I was livid. I thought: What a waste! He could have bought himself a skateboard, a bike, 50 Starbucks Frappucinos!
I made him cancel the game, lectured him about financial responsibility, and threatened to take away his new debit card if he did anything so irresponsible again.
But…then I started to second guess my approach?
After all, I did tell him that half of his graduation/birthday money was his to spend this summer. And, although I never even considered that he would spend it on virtual “gold” instead of Starbucks, hot dogs and movies, it was his money to spend.
Can I really tell him he can’t spend all of his money on video games because I think they’re stupid? Why is a $4 Frappucino any better??
When I was his age, I remember spending money on clothes, shoes, purses, all kinds of crap that I only wore or used once (shoulder pads and neon, anyone?) I’m sure my parents thought my purchases were equally worthless.
But, I learned a lesson. When I ran out of money, I ran out of money. I eventually learned to think before I bought one more pair of stirrup pants or heavy black eyeliner. (Which, is something I should have known long before, but I digress.)
The lesson my son learned is that he should have grabbed the mail before me so I wouldn’t have seen the bank statement.
If I wanted to teach him some useful lessons I probably shouldn’t have yanked the game so quickly.
I should have used that opportunity to teach him how to manage his spending and not buy things on impulse. I could have helped him map out a strategy where he could have spent money on his game and on his burgeoning Starbucks habit. But, the greatest lesson I could have taught him would have been about the value of sarcasm in parenting:
14-year-old, after burning through all of his money. “I don’t have any more money left and I want to go to the movies. Can I borrow $10?”
Me: “You know how the virtual world took all of your real money? Maybe the real world will accept virtual gold. Whadda ya think??”
Now that’s a lesson that would have lasted.
Do you control how your kid spends his or her money?
Did you make any worthless purchases as a kid?
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