The Price of Affluence

Perhaps you have never thought of yourself as an affluent parent and therefore consider the problem irrelevant to your situation. If you have any doubts about meeting the criteria for affluence, try answering the following questions:
  • Do you have several pairs of shoes?
  • Do you have several choices about what you will eat for each meal?
  • Do you have access to an automobile for your personal transportation?
  • Do you have several sets of undergarments?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, then by the overall standards of the world, you are affluent. The majority of all people on earth will not be able to answer yes to three or more of these questions at any one time in their lives.

We talk about which pair of shoes to wear when a third of the people of the world have never owned any shoes at all. We talk about what to eat today when a major cross section of the world population wonders whether it will eat more than once during the day and is grateful for the same food every single day. We talk about securing our own means of transportation, even buying cars for our children, when at least half of the people in the world walk everywhere and can only fantasize about having a vehicle at their disposal.

Because these advantages have come easily to us, we often have little respect or appreciation for them. Moreover, by providing so much for our children without teaching them the means of achieving these things and respect for those means, we might be literally threatening their chances to survive through adolescence. Young people are led to believe that shoes, food, and cars will come to them automatically and that hassling, manipulating, and wishing will guarantee that they will be able to “go first class.” In 1995, this kind of thinking resulted in an adolescent death toll that was comparable to the number of U.S. soldiers killed during the entire Vietnam War.

Effective parents do not use their means (large or small) to provide too much, too soon for their children. Nor do they stay up all night doing school projects for their children. The most effective parents are those who let their children “pay dues” of time, effort, and accountability on little things now, to avoid much larger costs of such lessons in the future. Such small charges might inconvenience or upset them but will not hurt them. Overall, on-the-job training for life includes increasingly complex lessons in patience, self-discipline, deferred gratification, personal initiative, sacrifice, and hard work.

Affluence is by no means a requirement for effective child rearing. In fact, affluence in the form of indulgence can be harmful. The best way to destroy self-esteem and a sense of worth in young people is to do too much for them. This robs them of a sense of personal capability. The greatest gift of all is to help them validate themselves as agents in their own lives. We can do this by making them active participants in creating their own well-being and the well-being of others. In so doing we help them not only meet their own needs but also contribute meaningfully in meeting the needs of others.

Written by H. Stephen Glenn & Jane Nelsen Ed.D.
Seven Building Blocks for Developing Capable Young People

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