Q: My two teenage girls got lovely Christmas gifts, including new clothes and accessories. But now that seems to be "old news" and they are nagging me to go shopping to find more "sales" and buy more new stuff. I get upset when my children think they should get what they want when they want it; it wasn't like that when I grew up. Our girls have part-time jobs and their own money but they always want more than they have. Why? How can I help them stop spending? -- Disappointed Mom
A: We need to look at their behavior in context with the current values of our own society and our own modeling. The United States is the biggest consumer in the world, and research studies have stated for years that we are, on average, nine times more consumptive than other Western cultures. This compulsion to have more, newer and bigger, even when we can't afford it, has been named "affluenza."
Both social and economic researchers have been very concerned about affluenza, calling it a growing social disease caused by consumerism, commercialism and rampant materialism. Along with it comes anxiety, overloading, over working, and personal and national debt. Add to these the erosion of family and community, the growing gap between rich and poor and the huge stress on our planet's environment.
Take 20 minutes to search "affluenza" and learn more at many websites, including www.affluenza.org, which not only states the problem, but tells what we can do about fixing it with sustainable consumption. See www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza to learn many surprising facts in the "diagnosis and treatment" pages, as well as a Q&A and teacher guide.
Several sites state (also confirmed it with a researcher at the University of Michigan) that Americans, who make up 5 percent of the world's population, use nearly a third of its resources and produce about half of its hazardous waste. Several sites feature online videos and documentaries; it's great information to share with your children.
We need to take the lead and make our children, from the early years on up, aware of this problem. We need to keep them in touch with reality regardless of peer and media pressures. And we need to set a good example.
If we do nothing, we are just adding to the over-consumption problem and not preparing our kids for the real world.
Schools aren't going to teach children about money management or budgets. They won't show kids how to keep track of money that comes in, goes out, or is saved. Parents must do it, even if you only have simple, short family meetings about money management once a month. (Start when young children have their first allowance.) And teens with jobs don't usually handle their money wisely. They'll learn skills they need from these discussions.
Teach them to ask themselves, "Do I need it? Or do I just want it?" Then teach them to figure out if it's within the budget to get or not. Children can only learn the difference between wants and needs with your help.
Consider the alternative. They keep spending more than they have, and come to you for extra money, pushing them deeper into the disease of affluenza.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.