I was flipping through a parenting magazine the other night when I came across an advertisement by one of the big banks urging parents to teach their young children not only letters and numbers but also about loonies and toonies.
"Giving your child an allowance is a great first step," the ad said, quoting pyschotherapist Alyson Schafer.
But it was the next line that made me wonder:
"For example, if you usually buy your child a juice after their swim lesson, try making it their financial responsibility. Presto! You've just created your child's first budget: $2 for juice once a week."
It got me thinking: Teaching a child financial responsibility is important, but has the pendulum swung too far? Asking a very young child to spring for food after vigorous exercise (which may well have been your idea in the first place)? What next -- asking them to pay for the gas to drive them there?
I checked with Ms. Schafer to see whether she had been misquoted or perhaps quoted out of context. She said: "Yes, the quote is accurate, but maybe the idea is not clear. I used the example of a juice box, not meaning to state that children should buy their own 'food and groceries' at this age, but instead to find an item that is regularly being purchased on behalf of the child that could become the child's responsibility."
She added: "I do pay for my children's food 'needs.' So, if we eat lunch at a drive-through -- I pay, it's lunch -- my responsibility. If they want a bagel when we are almost home and could wait .... that is another story!"
I have to admit, I'm still not sure I buy that (not least because I am one of those tiresome new-age mums who disapproves of juice -- my kids get water to drink and fruit to eat). What if your little tyke decides to use the $2 to buy chocolate instead after their swimming lesson? What if they decide against the juice just to save their toonie up for something else and end up dehydrated?
As for that bagel -- aren't you better off teaching the very young about the evils of what appears to be impulse shopping, rather than saying, "Well, as long as I don't pay for it, I can turn a blind eye to it"? Where food is concerned, can you accurately gauge how hungry a growing child may be? And do I really want to encourage another trip to a drive-through for a bagel when I have to get home, get dinner going and deal with math exercises? Why not simply pack a snack and teach them about saving a couple of bucks instead?
Don't get me wrong: Like Ms. Schafer, I believe teaching kids the value of money is indeed important, and my five-year-old and seven-year-old get to hear a lot more about it than I ever did when I was a kid. When we buy a box of food to donate to a food bank once a year, we discuss how a bag of lentils and a bag of rice can feed a family for several meals, yet cost the same as a couple of bags of chips. We regularly argue about online video games that exhort children to spend real money to buy virtual objects. And we draw up a list before going grocery shopping and stick to it -- in fact, once I discovered laundry detergent on sale at the store but the boys wouldn't let me buy it because it wasn't on the list.
Teaching them to be responsible about money is part of my job as a parent. But as far as I can see, regularly handing over money for food that they need does not serve this purpose, and neither does getting them to pay for food that I do not think they need. Either way, it is literally passing the buck. Maybe it's time to talk about parents' financial responsibility instead.