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How should you go about balancing the possessions you buy for your child against peer pressure from other children (particularly at school) and parents?

Many parents feel the need for their children to keep up to date with whatever other children might have, be it the latest trainers (sneakers), smartphone or tablet computer. The fear being either their child will be bullied or they'll miss out on educational or social opportunities.

I'm conscious of the effect of this "have / have not" scenario on both my child and other children - where if say, I jumped on the bandwagon and bought my child an iPad, chances are there'll be one or more children who won't get one because their parents can't afford it.

I'd imagine none of us want to have their child be the "odd one out", but what is a sensible balance?

  • Having (practically) everything? This is the expensive option, plus it puts more pressure on other parents and children. I'd also assume this would make it difficult to make the child appreciate how lucky they are if they get everything automatically.
  • Have some of the things from their peer group? What would you prioritise, bearing in mind children can be very brand conscious and their attention / interest in the latest craze may be short-lived.
  • Have very little of the "in things", trying to teach the child to appreciate what they do have and explain that there will always be someone with more than them, so they have to learn to accept that?

With the following in mind:

  1. Like any parent, I want my child to have every opportunity and the best education.
  2. Like most parents, our family has a limited budget with a balance of priorities.
  3. We don't want our child to be bullied or excluded from social situations.
  4. We don't want other children to be left out or increase the pressure for their parents.

Update

Some people commenting and answering have misinterpreted my intentions - I'm not proposing spoiling my child by buying everything they want on a whim. My question relates to situations where all or most children in their class already have something and my child doesn't. The people preaching about how bad it is to hand children everything on a plate have missed the point of this question...

I'd agree with the sentiment that children should be taught not measure their worth in possessions or what they have. However, the further away they are from the situation of their peers, the more difficult they'll find being included and socialising at school. As one answerer already mentions, this really breaks down into two areas: possessions purely for status and prerequisites for participation.

Whilst it's easy to justify not buying fancy shoes, but when all the other child communicate after school using an app, play on-line together on their consoles or ride to their park on their pedal go carts (and your child has none of these things), the other children not playing with mine isn't bullying, it's situational. Ignoring that would just leave my child excluded.

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    No, HECK NO. I have a friend who only works 20 hours a week in a full time job position. He's supposed to work 30, -10 hours because of school, only thing is, he hasn't been in school for a year. And he's somehow weaseled his way down to 20 hours from the already shorted 30 hour week. Why has he done this when he's not in school and he's married? Cause his whole life his parents have bought him everything to help him "keep up with his peers" including paying for his car even though he's married! So DON'T DO THIS, if you want your kids to have any kind of work ethic at all. Just don't. – Ryan Oct 2 '14 at 17:57
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    The idea that you should "keep up with the Joneses" IS a form of bullying. – Jasmine Oct 2 '14 at 18:38
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    I guess the question boils down to "how much is too much" and "how little is too little?". This is a question just about every parent have – Raestloz Oct 3 '14 at 4:15
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    Why is this even a question, how else will the child learn to deal with the fact that they can't just have everything that they want in life? – JamesRyan Oct 3 '14 at 11:15
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    @Mikaveli no, I think that is exactly the point. learning to ignore peer pressure requires there to be some. And incidently, bullies won't pick on a child because they have less, they might use that as the excuse but take it away and they'll just use a different one. – JamesRyan Oct 3 '14 at 11:21
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Like the others, I disagree that you should buying your child "everything". But I feel there is an important distinction other answers don't bring to the point, although some skirt it.

When your children asks for something "everybody has", ask yourself: is it a status symbol, or a tool prerequisite for participating in an activity common among its peers?

For the status symbol, such as Nike Air shoes or Disney-themed folders, I agree that they have a low priority. I disagree that you should forbid them completely. Status is important to everybody, child as well as adult, and ideally, a person will get his self-esteem through a combination of internal and external validation. Relying on external validation indeed leads to major mental problems in life, but adopting a "I'm good enough for myself and I don't care what the world thinks of me" attitude is also dangerous, it causes the person to lose contact with social reality. So, when the child is immersed in a culture where external status symbols are extremely important (and this is common among teenagers), having a few of them is better than having none and telling him to develop a "the grapes are sour" reaction to the things.

We cannot prevent absorbing the predominant values of the culture we live in, and he will want these things if everybody around him values showing status through ownership. So, try to frame these things as a luxury item, but one which is not forbidden just because it's "bullying" to have them - just something he only gets for special occasions, and not because it's super important to have it.

For the activity prerequisite, I'd say this is much more important. It is not about being bullied at all. But if all classmates play the same networked game and he doesn't have it, then they will talk about it to each other all the time, and he won't be able to participate not because they are bullying him, but because he cannot contribute anything. Even if he is with good friends who genuinely want to be nice to him, he will feel excluded once the game talk starts. And children and teenagers talk about games all the time.

Feeling shunned and ostracized is a very powerful negative experience for any human being, no matter what age, and it is important to prevent a child from feeling that way. So don't prevent his access to in-groups important among his circle of friends. Agree to the networked game. If everybody is talking on Facebook all the time, don't forbid a FB account because you think FB is an evil data kraken and you have sworn never to allow it in your family - if your kid doesn't get a hidden account while living with you, he'll get it first thing when he moves out for college just because he's been yearning for it all these years. But in the meantime, he'll suffer from being the outsider. And if everybody is using whatsapp instead, do get that smartphone.

Somebody else said that nothing but face-to-face communication is important. I disagree here. No single person - parent, child, or anybody - can determine how a group chooses to communicate. It doesn't even work in the highly disciplined corporate word, where multimillion dollar communication systems are shunned in favor of what the group dynamics choose as the best channel. If there is a network which is used by all his peers, it is important to let him have access to this network, instead of telling him to value face-to-face only and disregard the fact that he's missing out 90% of the things everybody else is part of.

This doesn't mean that absolutely everything from this group is indispensable and has to be automatically bought. If two friends of his like kayaking and he wants to try it too, this doesn't mean you should pay 1000 euro for a child kayak + 300 euro for full neoprene equipment. You could let him have lessons or rent a boat, and see if this is maybe just a fad which goes away two months later. Or if he wants the newest HTC alu-unibody smartphone and comes with the argument that the others use whatsapp all the time, you can agree to a smartphone, but get him a cheap model or a used one. The important thing is to enable the group activity, not to use the most convenient, flashy and expensive way to do so.

  • Thank you, this answer shows a good understanding of the problem I was trying to express. – Michael Oct 3 '14 at 11:14
  • +1. If only you can favorite an answer instead of just the question. I'll save this for future reference – Raestloz Oct 6 '14 at 3:54
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    A very balanced answer. I can't say I agree completely, but perhaps it's the proper middle ground. – Dariusz Oct 6 '14 at 6:52
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    This is a pretty good answer (+1 from me). However, I have two objections: 1) "[Something] is a very powerful negative experience for any human being [...] and it is important to prevent a child from feeling that way." If you consider it very important to prevent your child from negative experiences, then how can your child learn to deal with them? I consider this ability a very important character trait. 2) I feel different about what is an activity prerequisite than you. However, as I said in my answer, I leave many such decisions to my children. For example,... – sbi Oct 6 '14 at 7:04
  • ...I explained to my (smartphone-owning) teenagers what happens when they install WhatsApp (including that my phone number will be transferred to Facebook). As a result, some installed it anyway, while some preferred to spend a few bucks for Threema, (partially successfully) trying to convince their peers to do likewise. Lets see how the other kids decide when they come into that age. – sbi Oct 6 '14 at 7:05
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When confronted with these issues for the first time, we asked ourselves these questions:

  • Can we afford to have everything all our peers have?
  • If not, when and how did we learn to not to let this bring us down?
  • Do we calculate our self-esteem depending on whether we can buy the same things our peers do?
  • Seeing some of the things their peers have, do we even want our children to have those?

The answers to these turned out to be No, As a child, Not at all, and Definitely not, respectively.

Consequently we never even tried to give to our kids everything their peers have. (Also, I have always valued time with my children over salary, and I have many children, so I simply cannot afford it anyway.) Rather than that, we concentrate on trying to instill a self-esteem in them that is not dependent on what they have, but what kind of person they are. Yes, that will rule out peers as friends for our children that evaluate people based on what they have. We think this is a good thing, though. (Should there be no other peers than those, we'd try to find a different school for the affected child.)

My kids have learned early on that I will not buy everything I or they take a fancy to, but I believe in children being able to deal with resource shortage, and simply include them in decision-making, or just leave decisions to them, at a rather early age. Most of us have a limited budget which we need to fit in everything we need, and think hard on what to spend the rest on. I wanted my kids to learn this as good as possible. Therefore they have a dependable "budget" (aka pocket money) which they can use to buy luxuries like comics, movie tickets, sweets etc. – and must use to buy things they need like pencils, ink, notebooks. Depending on their age and personality more and more responsibility is moved over to them. At a certain stage, they need to watch their budget in order to be able to buy warmer clothes in the fall, and pay for their school excursions.

As a compensation, I try to leave them as much freedom as possible to buy whatever they want with the money they have left. If they consider a rather pricey mobile phone contract more important than movies? Shrug. Pay way too much for books or music? Shrug. Clothes? Shrug.

It's their money.

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    It's not (for me) a case of measuring worth on what they have, but rather dealing with a situation where almost everyone in class may have "the latest computer game" for example, so they play it online together after school and / or talk about it at school etc. Also, where other kids pick on the ones without the "fancy shoes" or similar. Essentially, all the external influences rather than us. – Michael Oct 2 '14 at 11:25
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    @Mikaveli: Yes, children tend to do that. But not all do. (If for no other reason, then because not all parents can keep up with this kind of race.) As I said, I do try to invoke a kind of self-esteem which does not depend on such children. A human is worth a lot more than a pair sneakers, and some children learn this at home. I am content as long as my children are where they find such children for friends, and learn to not to be brought down by the others. (I added some more thoughts on this to my answer. BTW.) – sbi Oct 2 '14 at 11:56
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    @Mikaveli: You deal with bullying due to shoes and shirts the same way you deal with bullying due to skin color, religion, sex etc.: You clamp down hard on the bullies via teachers and parents, and you strengthen your children. If you need advice on that, I'd suggest you ask this in a separate question. – sbi Oct 2 '14 at 13:10
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    @sbi - I grew up poor, too, and it wasn't like that for me. But, I don't think the way to fight the inevitable bullying every child will face is to complain to other parents and teachers. For everyday bullying (no one is immune), the child needs to feel enough self-esteem and security to let it roll off his or her back, and get love and support at home and from real friends and from their view of themselves. For more serious bullying, then the more serious route. Change schools? In extreme circumstances, yes. Ideally, the parents should have chosen the right school to begin with. – anongoodnurse Oct 2 '14 at 21:28
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    +1 for a strong answer! I especially loved, "trying to instill a self-esteem in them that is not dependent on what they have, but what kind of person they are." That statement, I believe, also addresses much of the commentary. I was going to write an answer, but you succinctly hit the nail on the head here. Let us only accept being judged by the "quality of our character!" – Sylas Seabrook Oct 3 '14 at 4:50
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I think that money is not the most important factor here.

I think that the reason the children usually have these costly toys (and I mean toys, since most kids do little more than play on them) like smartphones, laptops, tablets, PSPs, etc. is not because their parents care about them; it's often because they actually neglect them. The device is not intended as a learning tool, but as something that allows the parents to both have more time for themselves (the kid's playing) and feel better about themselves (we provide for all of our child's needs). In short, the good of the child is sometimes not the reason; it's the parent's own selfish good.

If a kid goes to school, does he have time to play on his smartphone? Supposedly, no. Is it a practically good idea to bring an unnecessary high-value item to school, where it can easily be broken or even stolen? No. So why do kids have them? a) to show off, b) to play during lessons, c) to play during breaks. Is any of those something you'd want to encourage? c would perhaps be acceptable, but both a and b should be out of the question.

Education has little to do with it. A child will grasp using smartphones, tablets or computers very easily; there's no need to bring them to school.

In general, I think the child should have limited resources, especially access to money. They should care about all their possessions, they should know their value, and they should learn the value of money. If they have all they want, they never will.

And if you make this your approach, it's probably going to be hard for your kids. Depending on their character and their friends, they may feel neglected by you (they need something, and you are not able/willing to provide it) and maybe excluded from some social situations by their friends. In the long run, it will make them more responsible, independent and self-reliant. Or at least give them such opportunity.

Not having the newest smartphone won't make your kids socially excluded. They will have some trouble at school, but they're not supposed to be playing with their smartphones there anyway. And they can have access to a computer at home, or a slightly older but still facebook/twitter/etc capable smartphone. They won't have the newest stuff, but it'll get the job done.

One last thought, perhaps the most important one: if your child's friends are going to exclude him from their social group just because he hasn't got the newest smartphone or video games, are you sure it's the social group you want them to be in? Just think about it.

  • This discussion should be moved to chat, we're being too chatty. The answer could use some more ifs and provideds, but I'll leave the point as strong as it is, for now. – Dariusz Oct 3 '14 at 8:03
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    Children also have mobile phones because parents, scared due to the hysterical mass media, see a pædophile behind every tree and want to be able to phone their child any moment, where are you now?!. Some Swedish schools have started collecting mobile phones at the entrance because parents were interrupting lessons by texting with their children all the time. Of course, a dumbphone would do for that, but it is certainly part of the story. – gerrit Oct 3 '14 at 15:04
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    While I agree with teaching kids about limited resources, I think this answer is off base in suggesting kids have gadgets because parents will not deal with them. That is a huge assumption on your part. In addition, the question concerned social impact and it is important to remember that for teens today, social media is a huge part of their social lives. This answer didn't really address this. – Ida Oct 3 '14 at 20:17
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    What? Are you saying smartphones have no educational value? – bjb568 Oct 6 '14 at 15:44
  • @bjb568 They have an educational potential. They can be used for education, but not everyone will use them this way. – user31389 Feb 17 '17 at 11:19
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When I first read this question, the first word that came to my mind was bullying. You're in a kind of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" position here, and you need to choose 1) what's really best for your kids, and 2) what heartache you want to face.

First, do you have the means, and live a lifestyle, that allows you to give your child everything other children have? If you do, were you raised that way, or did you have to work to earn it? If you don't, you should not sacrifice on the better things to 'protect' your child from the "shame" of having less.

It is not a shameful thing to have less than others. It is not a shameful thing to have more, either, though many people would see it that way. But think about this from your child's point of view.

What message are you sending your child if the only reason they have nice things is so that they will be accepted by others? It seems to me that this would say "you are only acceptable to your peers if you have what they have." (Also, it will say, "You get nice things because you're alive, not because you worked for them". That's also a bad message to send.) The flip side of this coin is, will your children look down on those who do not have the same things? Will they become the bullies to those kids who don't have smart phones and Air Nikes? Which heartache do you want to endure, to see your child become an entitled kid, or to share in their pain when they are bullied and what you have to offer them is love, support, and a healthy view of the value of people, money and work?

This is not a simple case of what to do about luxuries. It's a case of an entire philosophy of life. You need to decide what kind of person you hope to shape your child into, and how best to do this.

Whatever you decide, you need to be consistent with that value system yourself.

Parenting is hard. I think it's the hardest thing I ever had to do, and I've done a lot.

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    IMO this is a very good answer that raises quite interesting points without trying to judge. +1 from me for that. – sbi Oct 3 '14 at 6:47
  • Great answer! +1 from me. I truly think that what we have to deal with when it comes to parenting, will never come to an end. It happens when ur a child and as well as an adult. – LOSTinNEWYORK Sep 21 '15 at 14:53
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The key is to make independent evaluations of the value to your child. What other parents are buying or giving in on shouldn't be your deciding factor at all. Marketing is driven by peer pressure and the attitude of "keeping up with the Joneses" will teach your children bad financial practices and set them up for an inability to succeed well in life as it tends to lead to over-spending.

Instead, make good evaluations of the advantages it will bring your kid and work with them to make sure they understand why it is valuable to have and why they are getting it. If they use it incorrectly, don't hesitate to take it away. Your children need to understand that resources have value and should be obtained to help them. If you can teach them to utilize resources wisely, you will set them up for making wise financial decisions.

In general, it is good for kids to have limited funds for their own stuff so they appreciate the value of money, but sufficient to be able to learn to use money wisely. The problem is sometimes there will be bigger ticket items that don't fit this model and that's where making them earn it by making effective use works to demonstrate the value of the resources in improving their life.

As an example, with proper parenting, a smartphone is a tremendous resource for a student. Having constant access to the Internet gives access to a wealth of information and processing ability. It can help with both organization and research. Since this isn't something they would be able to afford on a limited budget, you can make them have to realize the value through appreciation of the utility. If they simply use the phone to play games and make no effort to benefit themselves from what it provides, take it away. If they are using it to benefit themselves and as an effective tool, continue to let them use it and learn to make it an effective tool for them. This also necessitates highly involved parenting, monitoring how they make use of the device and helping them to understand how they can make it a valuable tool to help them in their schooling.

If an item has no value to your child's development though, then it should be hard for them to get, you can make it so it isn't impossible, but you want them to understand the value of luxury items, and if it isn't important to their development, then it is a luxury item for them.

3

Your child is going to learn how to face the world based on how you face the world.

For example, did you buy an iPad because everyone else has one or because it was a tool to use? Do you buy a particular shirt because it has a logo on it or because that was an appropriate shirt? Do you buy a particular pair of shoes because they say "Nike" or because those were the best ones for what you intend to use them for?

Basically, if you acquire things based on what others have then it doesn't matter if you give them an iPad or not as you are already telling them what's important. If, however, you buy things based on what they do for you and the reasons you picked that particular item are based on your needs then that sends a very different signal.

In my household, when we make a purchase it is primarily because there exists a need. After the need is identified then we pick the best possible option, not based on what the neighbors might have, but rather based on how it fulfills it's purpose.

Taking shoes as an example, my kids run cross country. The shoes they have are expensive but they weren't purchased based on brand name; they were purchased based on fit and comfort. As a rule, we don't buy logo'd shirts or pants. The clothing we do wear is nice, it just doesn't have "hollister" or "pink" written across it.

There are certainly purchases we make that are purely for entertainment value. Generally the kids will earn money through chores and they are free to spend it as they wish.

Just FYI - we can certainly afford to buy whatever clothes, shoes or whatever else we want. If I wanted each of my kids to have their own iPad, iPhones or hollister shirts then that would definitely not be a problem. It's just that we, as a family, place zero value on acquiring stuff just because that's what other do.

Regarding the "bullying" aspect of it. Yes, there is certainly peer pressure for people to spend every single dollar they get in order to plug into the latest fad. Interestingly though, most research shows that generally the people that fall into that trap are on the lower income scale than those that don't. http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/schor-overspent.html

1

In the delivery room where I had my babies, there was a sign; "You don't need to rear kids, they just copy everything you do."

(Without making a judgement on this) if you are the sort of person to whom possession of status symbols is important, then your kids will be too. Period.

If you can say "I don't need a new X because the old X is still working", your kids will find it quite natural to say this too. If you can say "I don't need an iDevice, the others are just as good and cheaper" and then not buy an iThing, then your kids will be happy with this. If you can say "I can't afford a new X this year because the roof needs fixing, and the roof has priority" your kids will be able to adopt this as a philosophy.

If your kids really need smartphones to have friends, there are plenty of cheaper products; no-names, used ones, last year's model... And then you won't be so sad if it gets stolen/lost/broken.

  • Another thought: this owning of stuff is never-ending. There's a new model every year. There are other ways to get respect. Can your kids play an instrument? They can join an orchestra or start a band. Maybe these are people you'd rather have them hang around with? Ditto sport. If, as you say, you want your kids to have the best education, then helping them spend time going "beep" is counter-productive to my mind. – RedSonja Oct 6 '14 at 10:23
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    It's true that kids will most likely adopt their parents attitudes, but, first, they go through a quite natural stage of development where they begin to adopt the values of their wider social group on their way to forming their own personal identity and moral framework. I suspect it is this stage that the OP is concerned with. Allowing the child to learn how to adapt to group norms without losing their identity is CRITICAL. Moving them from group to group (sport, orchestra) in an attempt to force them to belong to a group where adjustment isn't necessary is counterproductive. – Jax Oct 6 '14 at 12:01
  • Yes, reading the original question again, the OP wants his kids to fit into that particular set, not into kid-groups in general. I was misled by "best education" too. – RedSonja Oct 7 '14 at 7:19
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Yes if you want your child to be another mindless consumer drone. Lets all buy into the status quo after all it fuels the corporate profits. Seriously people wake up and smell the roses, oh yeah another great corporate created holiday roses on valentines day :) Lets spend 49.99 on a dozen of roses when you can buy the whole bush from the nursery for 5.99

Take your kid to the Appalachian mountains where they can learn the true value of life. Don't feed your kid the BS status Quo you were raised to buy into. Yes lets get them all Ferraris so they can believe they are on 90210, geez you can buy 3 houses to live in for the price of one of those. Its all about perspective I guess. But what is really important in life, should we be teaching our children the label is the most important thing?

Is what their peers think so important. Is being a individual such a bad thing? Ten years after school who is going to remember wether you wore nikes or had a ipad versus a Samsung. If that's all they remember were they really worth knowing? How can you say shallow? Buy the individual parts have your child assemble them and I will bet he/she will take much better care of whatever it is.

I had this neighbor who was extremely wealthy, he bought his son a Porsche for his 16th birthday, before they could even get it registered and insured the kid snuck out and totaled it, within a week they bought him another one. With in 3mos roundabouts, he tore it up fried the transmission from doing donuts. Of course they got it fixed. My point being no one handed me my first car, it was a rusted out 1976 buick electra yellow bananna boat with 96k miles on it. But you know what I took care of it and cherished it as if it were a brand new Porsche, why you may ask? Because I worked hard for it. Unlike the neighbors, my parents knew the value of working for something. Guess that's the difference between being born with a brass spoon versus a gold diamond encrusted one. I live a simple life and have socked away enough cash to live the remainder of my life without worrying. I am not in debt, indeed I don't have the fanciest stuff, but I tell you what I don't worry about losing what I have as its paid for. Anyone seen the national debt guess what none of its mine :)

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