“Parents aren’t around as much, there’s a lot more “hanging out in town,” and it creates money issues”-marketing tagline 

We played a game when I was a kid called “Red Light, Green Light.” As I recall it was a pretty simple game. The person that was “it” was the finish line. (There always seemed to be someone that was “it” in our games which probably accounts for why we all have such low self-esteem and so many complexes because we were singled out early in life) The people playing lined up at the starting line behind the person that was “it”. The “it” person (I’m going to get tired of writing “it” I can tell) called out “green light” and the people behind ran toward them. The person that was “it” called out “red light” and turned around quickly. If you were still moving when they turned around and saw you, you had to go back to the starting line. Some kids played a variation where they yelled “yellow light” and you moved in slow motion or moving was limited to walking with no running (that was usually the way we played it at church because, you know, “no running in church”. Now churches have gyms…but I digress). I imagine the child psychologists would say this was a classic gatekeeper game, designed to give us kids a feeling of power and control because we had so little of either because, duh, we were kids. Not so much today.

Today many kids have power and control that we would have thought unheard of back then. They have latitude to go places and do things we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing. High-school kids go on “Spring Break,” on their own. Middle school kids have debit cards and elementary kids walk around with cell phones. (To be fair they have to. How else would they keep up on their Twitter, maintain their Instagram and connect via Snapchat? This isn’t all fun and games here people; we’re building an online presence!) And yet, as parents, we helicopter more and more. Do we mistrust them even though society seems to push our kids to grow up faster and faster yet we still realize they’re just kids? Or is it that even though our kids can handle their new independence we’re more and more neurotic and fearful of what might happen to them? (There’s that control thing again you Red light/Green light fans) It’s probably a mixture of both but certainly highly dependent on the parents and children and their personalities. One thing playing a key role has to be the simple concept of contact.

In our world of always-available, constantly reachable and 24/7-365 instant- messageable (yep, made that up) ironically we have less and less contact. Texting is now “talking”. We rarely even call our kids because we know they won’t pick up. But text them? They’re right back at ya! Don’t believe me? Check your cellphone bill next month. Data is where it’s at, man. (Feel like I should add a “groovy” or something there) Talk time? Not so much. Sitting down with our kids and having a discussion about something as common and innocuous as their allowance may not even be done. In fact, it doesn’t have to.

For about $5 a month we can give them a debit card that is periodically loadable and even business-restricted (It will work at the convenience store but not the smoke shop). You give them restricted and non-restricted funds but you can approve instant overages if they make a request. For instance, say they want to treat their friends to ice cream but you only have $6 approved to Dairy Queen. Sounds handy, right? Teaches them budgeting of their non-restrictive funds, correct? Gives you the control you desire, true? These are all good things, unless you’re talking about actual human or parent/child contact.

Now, I’m an old guy (like I need to tell you that, huh?) but I remember sweating it out asking my dad for $.25 for a bottle of pop. I remember trying to do everything just right so he would say okay to taking me fishing. What I don’t remember is handing a note to someone else and asking them to deliver it to him requesting either of these things. (The old-time equivalent to this) Nope, I had to stand in front of him and receive, in person, what I was pretty sure would be a “No”. I won’t get into how much we were told “no” back then versus kids today, that’s a whole other bramble patch. Nope, I think almost the larger issue today is how much of this stuff is NOT done in person. I think it’s a disservice to our kids and a cop-out for us parents. And it might come down to another “c” word: conflict.

No one that I know likes conflict. I’m not saying there aren’t people out there that do, I’m just saying I don’t know anyone that does. I think most of us just like to get along. We do. And we’ll go to some pretty great lengths to avoid a dust-up with anyone; from someone at work to someone at home. I once knew a guy that said had he spent more time on the road for his job his marriage might have lasted longer but that was him. I’m sure none of us ever avoids their spouse. But the kids? Are we avoiding conflict with the kids? If we push $10 in allowance funds to their debit cards every week and they run thin are we going to allow their purchase to be declined at the Quik Trip? Or, are we going to free up a few more dollars so they won’t suffer the embarrassment of hearing that “waah, waah!” sound when they swipe their card? Will we take the chance that their delicate psyches might be damaged or will we issue a text to them that due to their overage this week they have to pay a service fee of $25? Maybe we’ll cancel their card or have to fire them from the family? That would be tough but you know, tough love….

At the end of the day maybe I’m like you I have many questions but very, very few answers. To me it just seems strange that we can’t or won’t do the parental equivalent of “Red light/Green light” with our kids. And because we can’t, we’re going to set up a relationship that’s more like one we have with our bank or our credit card company. Maybe that’s what it’s coming to and I ought to just get on board. Maybe I’m stuck in a philosophy and a paradigm that doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe I need to embrace the newer, “cleaner,” more efficient means of money management when it comes to kids. I don’t know. I shake my head when I think about it, I guess in hopes I’ll jar loose the old ideas about how things should be so the new ones can take hold. I just can’t seem to get over the idea that the messy, inefficient method was best: where we talked about things in person and our contact, not our contract, ruled the day.

So, set me straight here people, call me a fuddy-duddy. (NEVER thought I’d ever write that term) Where do you fall on this? And if you know someone that’s in this predicament, what’s their opinion? Please share this with them if you think it might help them sort this stuff out. 

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