"But Mom, All My Friends Have One!"
Helping Them Appreciate What They've Got
It's hard for kids to fully appreciate what they have. Sure, they catch a glimpse of a TV show about an impoverished country when they're flipping through the channels. Or they might read an account of a community that was ravaged by a flood, earthquake, mudslide, or tornado.
We, or teachers at their schools or places of worship, can tell them about sweatshops and child labor and starving children. And while our children may feel sympathy for those situations, they can't ever appreciate the anguish of a mother who's watching her child starve to death and is powerless to do anything about it. They can't imagine what it would be like to lose everything you own, including members of your family, in a devastating earthquake or flood.
Two thirds of all people in the world have a standard of living that's just 20 percent of the U.S. average. We should tell our kids that they, as an average American, are five times better off financially than two out of every three people in the world.
We should do what we can, though, to help our children—regardless of their age—understand how fortunate they are on a global level. We also should show them examples in their own community or surrounding area of people who aren't as well off as they are.
We know a minister who takes groups of pre-teens and teenagers to a homeless shelter in the middle of Philadelphia. He and the kids serve meals to homeless men and then spend the night in an area of the shelter in which the men sleep. Every kid who goes comes back with a story, and a better idea of how people who are less fortunate than they are live.
A neighbor volunteers in a city soup kitchen in our area and takes her three children along to help serve. Our children save the clothing they've outgrown and deliver it to a Salvation Army shelter for women and children. The shelter is much, much different from Rachael's luxurious room or Amanda's bedroom suite, and my daughter comes home and is happy for a while with her own room and possessions.
Money and social responsibility are directly related to some people, while others see no correlation. People of great wealth—Bill Gates types—are pressured to be socially responsible and share some of what they have. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is endowed with 17 billion dollars to support philanthropic efforts in the areas of global health and learning.
Adding It Up
There are many definitions of social responsibility, but we think that it's understanding your place in the world, doing what you can to help others, and respecting and protecting your environment.
We don't think we need to have our children go to great extremes to be socially responsible. We do think, though, that they should be aware of the concept of social responsibility and encouraged to develop it in their own time.
You can do that by setting an example of being socially responsible yourself. Tell your children why you take used clothing to the Goodwill Center, where low-income families can buy it inexpensively, instead of tossing it in the trash can. Explain to them why you give up a Sunday afternoon to participate in a walk to raise money for hungry people around the world. Keep a jar on the kitchen counter and have everybody throw in loose change. When the jar is filled, contribute the money to your local food pantry.
You don't have to go to great lengths to be socially responsible. But, teaching your kids at an early age to appreciate what they have and to share when they can will instill in them the concept of social responsibility while giving them a sense of their good fortune for their place in the world.
More on: Money and Kids
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in Your 40s and 50s © 2002 by Sarah Young Fisher and Susan Shelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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