“When my son turned 8, he asked for a cellphone. That was the arrangement we’d agreed to, so I gave him mine and bought another one for myself,” relates Ronit Mey-Tal, the mother of two children, ages 7 and 9. But, she says, it didn’t end there.
“It soon became clear that the phone, which had served me well enough, was no longer adequate because all his classmates had devices with huge screens. At that point I put my foot down, and even scored a minor victory when he briefly gave in, until the screen broke — and the boy got a new phone,” Mey-Tal says.
“Parents feel that if they don’t fall into line with what everyone else has, then their child will sustain some sort of damage,” concludes Mey-Tal, who counsels parents on the Adler method, “and are therefore willing to buy items that aren’t always needed.”
Noga, the single parent of a 10-year-old girl from central Israel, paints a similar story. “I believed a child doesn’t need a telephone before age 12. I didn’t have one when I was a kid, and I got along just fine. But it doesn’t work that way anymore. Children aged 8 and even younger are getting cellphones and that’s become the standard. Anyone without one is left behind. So I bought my daughter a simple phone, but it couldn’t run all the apps she downloaded so I had to buy her a new, and much more expensive, one.”
Smartphones are just one example. Many parents we spoke to mentioned how much they spend every month so their children have “what everyone else has.” They report outlays of hundreds of shekels every month that in some cases run to thousands of shekels.
“Anywhere between 5% and 10% of my salary is spent on high-tech children’s toys and games. I spend hundreds of shekels a month so my kids can have what everyone else has,” says Nurit, a mother of three from southern Israel. “It’s always something else – Kendama, fidget spinners, cards and now Beyblades. And there are the knockoffs and the real ones — the most desirable — and dozens of kinds of each item, and it simply never ends.”
“Many parents are incapable nowadays of limiting their children, because they see how sad, angry, frustrated or dissatisfied their child is. So they will do anything to mollify them. This is the new parenthood and it is not fair to the children,” says Michal Daliot, a parenting consultant (and star of the Israeli “Supernanny”).
“There is a minority of parents,” she says, “who don’t buy what isn’t necessary. They won’t buy their children cellphones until they are 10 or 12, even if all their friends have them,” or will purchase used toys rather than new ones, “but they are in the minority,” Daliot says.
Flexibility is best
She adds that some parents are flexible, and that this is the best approach. “These parents are conscious of the values that drive them — such as that cellphones are not optimal for young children — but they will weigh the price the child pays as a consequence of their values, such as social ostracism, and will then make a rational decision.”
Nevertheless, Daliot estimates that 75% of parents give in to their children’s demands. “These parents have values, they live their lives in accordance with these values — in their own businesses, at the workplace and in their relations with other adults — but when it comes to children, all of these values melt away.”
Why do these parents cave to their children, and is there a way to avoid doing so? Here are some of the stories parents tell themselves to justify their behavior.
1. “Everyone else has one”
This is the most common explanation of all. Parents buy games for their children due to social pressure and the fear that if they don’t buy them, the child will suffer. “It came to a point where we bought him an Xbox video game console and even table hockey without him even asking, simply because we saw that the other kids had them and we realized he needed it, in order to be up on the latest trends,” says Mey-Tal.
“My daughter,” adds Noga, “suffered from social ostracism in kindergarten, and ever since then I have devoted a lot of time and money to turn our house into a social center. And it works. The more brightly lit the games that are in the house, the happier the kids are to come over, and she has turned from being a practically lonely child into a social hub.” Noga relates that even though her daughter is not overly enthusiastic about sports, she built her a fitness room on the porch, for the friends, and whenever she shops for food, she buys candy, borekas and frozen pizzas for the friends. “The groceries and the games set me back at least 1,000 shekels ($300) a month,” says Noga. “I would be happy to spend less, but the way I see it, there’s no other way.”
2. “Because we didn’t have things growing up”
“I didn’t grow up in a wealthy home, and there wasn’t always money for toys, and now I feel a need to compensate my children for what I didn’t have,” says Nurit. “I want them to live a childhood of plenty, and I feel that these purchases in fact do the job.”
“I grew up in a family of five children,” says Noga. “I always had to make do with my older sister’s hand-me-downs. So now I buy for my daughter only new things. Evidently, it constitutes some sort of correction of the past for me.”
You child isn’t you
“When a parent says, ‘I am going to give to my child because I didn’t have,’ he or she is essentially not seeing the child, but only him or herself,” says Daliot. “Who says that the child will feel as you did? And in any case, she is not you and she did not grow up the way you grew up. This sort of parent is not being conscious of the child and is not conscious of the needs of the child’s education.”
3. “Because our family is special”
The proliferation of “new” families leads the parents up against some complex challenges. For instance, families headed by a single parent who feels a need to “compensate” for the absence of the other parent; divorced parents who compete for their children’s love and attention, and who at times feel the need to compensate them for the break-up of the family by means of purchases; or parents of only children and adoptive parents, wishing to correct the serious deficiencies their children experienced prior to their adoption.
“My son is both adopted and an only child,” says Yael Barak, the mother of a 10-year-old, from Kiryat Ono, who counsels families who have adopted children. “When there is an only child, there is a tendency to give him more and to maybe buy him more expensive things. Financially speaking, it is easier, because there is no need to divide it up.”
“I counsel parents of adopted children,” says Barak, “and I hear their desire to give them more, due to the wants these children suffered during their early years. Although my son’s room is full of games and other nice things, I believe that the real ‘compensation’ I give him lies in emotional and not material resources. My child receives a weekly allowance, but beyond that he does not get everything he wants. For instance, even though his friends have cellphones, my son still does not, and I intend to keep this situation going as long as I can.”
“When I was growing up, my family didn’t give me everything I wanted, but I never felt that I was lacking for anything. On the contrary, I learned to make things for myself,” says Terry Sashkis of Kfar Sava, a counselor to single-parent families. “Now, as a single mother, I am raising 6-year-old twin girls on my own. I am content with my choice and have no guilt feelings. I buy things for my daughters, but that doesn’t come from a place of compensation. For example, everyone in their class has a toy called Beyblade — and they also wanted one. At the beginning I was opposed, but I realized that it was actually a cool game that helps them to join in and be part of the class, and with their new friends in first grade — so I bought a few for them. On the other hand, right now, Supergoal albums are very hot, but I was not about to say yes to buying them. The girls want to be like everyone else, but they don’t really care about soccer, so as far as I’m concerned that expense is not necessary.”
A toy instead of dad
Still and all, Sashkis says that she can understand mothers who feel a need to compensate their children for any sort of lack or absence — a father figure, time spent with the children, or any other reason. “But before they act they should consider what is more important — compensating and getting the child accustomed to getting everything he asks for, or thinking of the values that are important to me, and being consistent with what I am giving, or not giving.”
“Even in the instance that the parent feels a need to compensate,” says Daliot, “we are, generally speaking, seeing a parent who is capable of only seeing him or herself. It doesn’t matter if these are divorced parents, adoptive parents or hard-working parents. Whenever they say ‘my heart aches for the child,’ they are actually pitying him. The moment that we send the child a message that we pity her, we are sending her the message that she is a child who should pitied, a child who is incapable of coping on her own. A child who is given the impression that she needs to be compensated will reach the conclusion that some injustice has been done to her, and that is how she will go about living her life.”
4. “Because he wants it”
Many parents say they buy their children the latest fads in order to gain some peace and quiet at home. “A child who wants something can drive his parent crazy, and the more the parent complies, the more that the child will continue to do it,” says Meytal.
Nurit backs her up: “It always begins with a minor request for a game, which I will at times try to rebuff, and ends with tears, shouting and a fight. And then the entire house falls into a state of turmoil, so we end up buying it. So that we can have some quiet.”
“Parents come into the clinic and tell me, ‘The kids are driving us crazy.’ But the function of children is to drive their parents crazy,” says Daliot. “Any psychologically healthy child who is growing up in this day and age will do everything he can to alter what the parent has laid down to him. He will nudge, pester, lay down on the floor and insult the parent. Parents who are unable to stand up to that will eventually give him what he wants — and so it will go, over and over.
“Parents have to understand that they are causing damage,” adds Daliot. “The children absorb values at home and then go out into the world. Then the parents grumble that the child doesn’t respect authority, is impudent to teachers, etc. But it all begins at home, as early as age 4, when the parent caves in to every demand by the child — even at the cost of high and unnecessary expenditures and going into overdraft — without justification.”