Can it be Bad to Buy Your Kids Nice Things?

I don’t remember the last time I saw a 12-year-old delivering newspapers on a bike.  Nowadays, it seems like newspapers are delivered either by an adult in a car or by a kid being driven by an adult in a car.  I don’t mean to criticize.  I just miss the days when kids would deliver the newspaper on their bikes, or go door to door with a lawn mower on a Saturday seeing if they could mow a lawn or two to earn some money.

When I grew up, if a kid would ask for something expensive, most of the adults in that kid’s life would respond unanimously, “Get a paper route.”  In fact, I had a paper route as an 11-year-old kid.  I would deliver newspapers each day on roller blades in order to earn $100 of spending money a month.  I would supplement my income by getting paid commissions to go door to door asking people if they wanted to sign up for the newspaper.

I had to earn most of the money that came into my hands when I was a kid.  Every time I wanted a video game, something cool at the mall, or to go to the movies with friends, I had to work for it.  I remember picking out cool electronics, or camping gear, or BB guns in catalogs and then calculating how many hours I would need to work in order to earn enough money to buy the things I wanted.

Today is different though.  Today 11 and 12-year-old kids walk around school with iPhones or iPods.  They have multiple game systems averaging $200 to $300 dollars a piece (not to mention numerous games for each system).  Many kids today play their gaming systems on 40’ to 60’ flat-screen TV’s; some of which are in the kids’ own bedrooms.

With all of the advancements in technology and entertainment – on-demand movies and TV shows, online Multiplayer Games that have no determined ending, and almost constant access to the internet through cell phones and tablets – I worry that kids are missing out on something of tremendous value; the value of struggling.   I worry that kids are becoming conditioned to believe that the wonderful things in life come to them without the struggle it takes to earn them.  I am concerned that parents today try to earn their kids’ love by buying them the things that the parents didn’t have as children or think their children should have in order to fit in.  I fear that with all our good intentions, we may be disabling our children by taking the struggle away from them.

So, generally speaking, the answer is YES!  In the long run, it can be bad to buy our kids nice things.  It can rob them from the work it takes, the anticipation of wanting, and the value of appreciating the things they get when they work really hard for something.  It can lead our children to believe they are entitled to the “good things of life” without the expectation that they will have to work to get them.  It can create an unrealistic standard of living for the child as he or she becomes a young adult and as well as an unhealthy dependence on parents.

Allowing kids to work hard and come up with ideas to earn money can be a valuable asset to a child and can prepare them for the real world.  Parents can encourage their kids’ innovation every time a child asks for something expensive.  When a child starts to ask for the newest technology, or the latest and greatest pair of $100 shoes, instead of discouraging the child from wanting the item, a parent can respond to their child by saying, “That is a cool gadget,” or “those are awesome shoes, and you are welcome to get those just as soon as you can buy them.”  Or a parent might even say, “Hey, I would even be willing to pay half because I know how much you want them.”

As parents are strong enough to withhold some of the nice things money can buy for their children, even when parents can afford to purchase those things, they are giving their kids an even greater gift.  The gift of struggle.  The gift of wanting something, anticipating it, and working hard to get it.  Our kids may not thank us now for the strength it takes us to abstain from giving them the expensive things they want.  However, our kids’ ability to work hard to get the things they want and their increased capability in life will be an even greater gift to us than the brief “thank you” they give in the moment when they receive that expensive gift.

Thanks for reading.


Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW Child and Family Therapist Gilbert and Mesa ArizonaShiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona.  He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Institute.


He provides parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculumclasses for parents of children with ADHDstep-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents.  He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona.

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