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Giving Teens Money

Is Our Guilt Causing Their Greed?

American teenagers are spending more than my father took home in his paycheck when I was a kid, and more than I received in my first job out of college. My father toiled in the textile mills for his money. My first job was teaching fourth grade. Our teens get more than $104 every week...for doing nothing. That's right, $104 a week! According to a national survey conducted by marketing firm Teenage Marketing Unlimited, the average American teenager spent over $104 per week in 2001.

The survey revealed that close to two-thirds of that $104 is spent on whatever the teens desire, while the remainder is spent mostly on feeding themselves. Nice work if you can get it. But evidently work has little, if anything to do with the cash teens carry in their pockets. Their parents give it to them with no strings like work or responsibilities attached to it. Ask or don't ask and you shall receive...a lot of money. That's the commandment at the core of parents turning their kids into carefree big-spenders.

I'm worried about this. We've already begun experiencing some of the dire consequences resulting from our teens' profligate spending habits. Robert Manning, author of Credit Card Nation, cites young adults under age 25 as the most rapidly growing group of bankruptcy filers. It appears that providing our teens with all this spending money might be creating generations of financially irresponsible adults. Teens see their parents as impetuous, conspicuous consumers who view considerable credit-card debt as an accepted way of life. The sins of the father...

What brought us to the place where teenagers feel entitled to cell phones, expensive brand-name clothing and the newest, high-priced electronic gadgetry? Have we and our children adopted the mantra from the movie, Wall Street -- he who has the most toys when he dies wins? How can we deny our teenagers' demands for CD burners and beepers when we feverishly acquire as many possessions as possible in a vain attempt to purchase immediate satisfaction and status?

During this last decade of unparalleled prosperity, the marketers have persuaded us that greed is not only good, but also necessary and natural. Then they took a look at the largest group of teenagers in our country's history and started marketing directly to them. Apparently they've taught them well. Teenage Research Unlimited reports that teenage spending has risen from $122 billion per year to $172 billion per year over the past five years. Our nation's teens may be failing standardized tests in alarming numbers, but they seem to be getting high marks in Greed 101.

Not only greed, but also guilt, drives us to dole out the discretionary big bucks to our adolescents. We spend more time at work than ever before. The dual-career family is commonplace. About half of our marriages end in divorce. Almost one-third of us are single parents. We are overwhelmed trying to balance our work and family lives. It's "I'm sorry that I'm not home more" money, "Sorry that we don't eat dinner as a family" money and "Sorry that I don't really know much about your life" money. We feel just plain sorry...and guilty.

Truth be known, your teenagers want more of you, not more money from you. That's what the studies say. That's what teens tell me. Don't bet that more cash can replace more of you. Stop feeling guilty. Put away your wallet. Spend more time with your teens. Show them that you care who they are and that you are genuinely interested in their lives. Maybe then you won't feel so compelled to show them the money.

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