Tough Economic Times Hit Teens, Too It isn't easy saying "no" to a teen, but with the economy in crisis, parents aren't interested in financing new cell phones or brand-name jeans. Advice columnist Amy Dickinson explains how frugality may be the new "in" thing for a generation of teens who grew up with everything.
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Tough Economic Times Hit Teens, Too

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Tough Economic Times Hit Teens, Too

Tough Economic Times Hit Teens, Too

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following today at NPR News. Markets fluctuated today after two economic reports. At one point, the Dow Jones industrial average was down more than 200 points before recovering slightly. And Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has received mixed reviews for his performance during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Many praised him for being adaptive and flexible, but he's also being criticized for misdiagnosing the problem. You can hear details on those stories and much more coming up later today on All Things Considered. Tomorrow, Ira Flatow will be here with Science Friday and a discussion on Doctor Atomic, an opera about the Atom bomb. Plus, revisiting a famous experiment on the origins of life and three new antibiotics that could help fight drug-resistant tuberculosis. That's all tomorrow on Science Friday.

Right now, it's time to ask Amy. No, is a word teens hate to hear from a parent, but with markets fluctuating, unstable jobs and thinning 401Ks, parents may have to say, no more often to things like brand name clothes and the latest cell phones. This may come as something of a shock to a generation of teens and tweens, who are used to getting what they want when they want it. Sunday's New York Times reported on some parents facing this. The frugal teenager, ready or not. Today, we're checking in with Amy Dickinson who writes the syndicated Ask Amy column for the Chicago Tribune and we'd like to hear from you, parents who are saying no more often. Our number here in Washington, 800-989-8255. The email address is, and you can comment on our blog. It is at Amy Dickinson joins us from her home in Attica, New York. Welcome, Amy. Good to have you on the show.

Ms. AMY DICKINSON (Writer, Ask Amy Column for the Chicago Tribune): Hey, Lynn. Thank you.

NEARY: So, OK. After years of parents trying to give their kids everything they could, how did they begin to say no?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, one thing I think we need to do with our kids is maybe apologize to them for not being more active parents and not involving them more in the - sort of the life of the larger world. I mean, if we have been just giving into them constantly, then how are they going to know, you know, what life is really like? I mean, we need to teach them, right? That's our job.

NEARY: How much should kids know and I guess, maybe at what age about how much money their parents have. I mean, it's maybe completely obvious but on the other hand, sometimes parents may be concealing, you know, what it's taking to give their kids what they're giving them.

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, I think that's - you know, concealment should stop and actually, I think older kids starting at age around 12 or 13 should know what their parents make, where the money goes, how much - what's their mortgage payment, how much are utilities, what do they - you know, what comes in and what goes out. I think that is a very, very important lesson for kids.

NEARY: Now, could you overdo that? Could you just - you know, and there are different sorts of kids. I mean, some kid may take that information and not care at all. Others might get, you know, like overly anxious about it or worried about it.

Ms. DICKINSON: Oh, you don't want to worry your kids. But you know what I like about this current situation is that family - it presents an opportunity in a way for families to come together. And what you can do is you can ask - you can enlist your kids in your life as a family. If you need to cut back because your 401K just took a hit, a huge hit, then you can ask them. What are some of the things we can do as a family to cut back on our kind of weekly expenses? And I'm sure that if you prompt them, kids could probably come up with some ways to economize.

NEARY: Why is it so hard to talk to kids sort of frankly about finances and money?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, it's embarrassing - you know, if we're not managing our own money well, it's kind of embarrassing. And one of the things I did with my own daughter is I shared some of my mistakes with her because I didn't want her to be in the dark, but I also didn't want her to repeat these mistakes. And one of the things when she went to college, within three days she got a job. And I have to say, I never told her, go get a job but she did and I have never been so proud. Honestly, she said I didn't want to take so much from you and I wanted to see what it was like to earn my own money. And I think that's fantastic.

NEARY: Now are you hearing a lot from parents right now about this?

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah, I mean remember the old days Lynn, like a month ago, when we worried about our over indulged kids. Well those days came to a crashing halt. You know one of the things I like - for instance This American Life ran a really interesting hour on sort of the Meta look about what's going on in the economy and they explained what's a derivative, what's a credit swap. And I downloaded a Podcast to play for my family because it's interesting and I wanted them to know. Now how does this trickle down to us. Well you can explain it, you can - you know, you don't have to reveal the actual numbers if you don't want. But you can explain when your 401K decreases in value by half that means that you're going to have much, much, much less in the future.

NEARY: What about kids? What about tweens and teens? Do you hear from them as well? What kinds of reactions are you getting from them?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, I actually hear from tweens quite a bit. And they - when they write to me it's often because they don't understand and I urge them to ask their parents to just be honest with them about what's going on his home. I mean that's the least we can do with our children is to be honest.

NEARY: Yeah. So, what are some of the alternatives that parents and teens can sort of look into if it - let's say I'm trying to think, you know, if you can get rid of the - you can get rid of the extra pair of jeans, you can get rid some of the clothes but some things that, you know, maybe some kind of activity lessons let's say, that a child is really involved in really - that's really important to the child, music lessons or something like that. You know, how do you deal with something like that that may now be stretching the budget?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, one another thing, you know, I think that parents should work very hard to keep a child. If for instance, lessons, music lessons, if your child loves music lessons, you should do everything you can to keep that kid in music lessons but if you need to stop for three months until you sort of get your house in order, then you can explain that as an open-ended thing. You can also ask them, what could they do? Maybe they can earn enough for one lesson, maybe they can earn it by babysitting or raking leaves or you know, what can they do to help and you know, I'm not suggesting that parents, you know, prompt their kids to sell their possessions, but you know, go to a vintage store, go to the salvation army and see - you know, see what's there. A lot of parents don't realize that it can be pretty cool to wear vintage clothes for instance.

NEARY: Mm hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: And the next time you need - for instance, you know when prom season comes up, do you want to wear the same old thing that every other kid is wearing or do you want to wear a vintage dress or do you want to maybe wear a sari or do you want to make something? I mean, there are all sorts of ways to get creative about what you're wearing. The iPod issue.

NEARY: Mm hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: For instance, you know there are used iPods. You can find one and a kid could take two months to earn the money to put towards an iPod.

NEARY: Right.

Ms. DICKINSON: You know, you have to involve them.

NEARY: What a concept.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah, I know. It's their lives.

NEARY: Yeah.

Ms. DICKINSON: You know and the more connected they are to their own life, the better they're going to do.

NEARY: We're talking with Ask Amy's, Amy Dickinson about saying no to your kids especially your twins and teens now that money is getting tight in a lot of households. If you'd like to join our discussion, the number is 800-989-8255. We're going to take a call now from Cathy. Cathy is calling from Long Island, New York. Hi, Cathy.

CATHY (Caller): Hi. How are you?

NEARY: I'm good. Thanks.

CATHY: My daughter is a very good honors student and wants to go to a very expensive college that we really can't afford and of course, we've been telling her, please go to the SUNY schools, and she says I don't work this hard, you know, in order to go to a SUNY school. I will, you know, so a bit, we're a little relieved because we've been told now that we probably won't be able to get the loan in order to pay for her because of this terrible economy. So - I hate to say but we're a little relieved because we feel that she could get that great education at the SUNY school and you know, I live in New York State and I know for instance that SUNY Binghamton is one of the most competitive schools in the country.

Ms. DICKINSON: I was yesterday, just said, I guess I'll use them as my back-up.

(Sound bite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: And you know, I love - I love the idea that you know, this is sort of let you off the hook because when you're faced with the stark reality, you know, your daughter, look, she already went the distance. She's like OK. You know.

CATHY: Well, she's still going to try and she's going to save - she can get scholarship because she's a great student but I think it's starting to get into her head with everything she's seeing and hearing that reality is reality, you know and your mom and dad can't afford 50,000 a year, you know type of a thing. So, but it is hard because when you have friends that can do it without a blink, like that's when it gets hard.

NEARY: So do you - let me ask you how you feel as a parent, so you - are you feeling bad as a parent that you can't give her what she wants in this particular case? I mean, you said you felt relieved, I understand that, but.

CATHY: Yeah. Well, yeah we do feel bad because when you go on the tours for these fancy colleges and you see what's available, you do have a little bit of guilt because you do feel like, wow, this does sound like an extraordinary experience, you know? But at the same time, we - both my husband and I went to the SUNY schools. We had great educations and I don't know, I just - I feel like as I say, if she can get a scholarship, then it would be on her own accord, you know?

NEARY: Yeah.

Ms. DICKINSON: Right. And I would add to Cathy that you know, never admit to feeling bad. It's like, you're giving - you're giving up the last piece of ground that you have as a parent. So you keep your, you know, hold your head up and your daughter's academic excellence is her ticket.

CATHY: Right.

Ms. DICKINSON: So, good for her and you know what? If somebody who went to a less expensive school and then transferred with scholarship, you can do it.

CATHY: Right, right, right.

NEARY: Great. Thanks for your call, Cathy.

CATHY: Oh OK. Thanks. Bye-bye.

NEARY: All right, we're going to go to a caller now from Toledo, Ohio. I believe the name is Kenny-on if I've got that right. I'm not sure. Hi. Welcome to Talk of the Nation.

KENNY-ON (Caller): Hello. Thanks for having - thanks for taking my call.

NEARY: Go ahead.

KENNY-ON: I was just going through this the other day with my children. They're three, five and seven years old and I also have a 13-year-old daughter. The other three are boys but it's kind of, you don't want to hurt their feelings, you know? It's one of those things but I learned that you know, it is good to be honest with your children because growing up without, you know, in - with very humbled means, my mom had no choice but to tell me why things were the way they were because I wanted to know why the lights were off or why, you know, we couldn't talk about certain things around certain people. So it empowered me as an - when I was growing up to take more responsibility, to take some pressure off of her. And you know, when you're honest with your children and in return, they'll be honest with you. You know.

NEARY: So you have already talked to your kids about all these and they've been accepting of it?

KENNY-ON: Yes. Yes, I mean, I don't really - can't say how accepting my three or five year old are of it. You know, they don't complain much but you know, you get those questions about why you can't go to certain places and spend money and do things you are used to doing. And the best - and the most effective way for me has been being honest. I don't have the money now son - and when I do, you know, I certainly and we'll take into consideration, you know maybe or compromise - sometimes I compromise with them, you know. We won't go, you know, today but we'll go at the end of the week.

NEARY: Yeah.

KENNY-ON: You know? It's just that to me to be honest with our children because they'll learn, you know. They'll - I think they learn better through honesty than, you know, as keeping them in the shadows, you know - and it's also, it'll give them a heads up on what they face when they go through certain things when we are not around. When they are a little older.


NEARY: Right, right. Thanks so much for your call.

KENNY-ON: Thank you.

NEARY: And I just want to remind the audience that you're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And Amy Dickinson, two words you used there, I think a good one is to keep in mind honesty and compromise.

Ms. DICKINSON: Right and what I love about this particular dad is that, you know, first of all, I'd like to say that kids, especially young kids, they want you. They want you. They want your time and whether it's at the playground, the park, or just out for a walk, that's what they want the most of all. With older kids, you know, when you go to the movies, if you're lucky enough to go, take a look at the prices for the snacks.

NEARY: Yeah.

Ms. DICKINSON: And what you can say to them is, look, we can't manage to go to a movie, we can't afford those snacks. Check out those - you know, $5 a large soda? I don't think so.

NEARY: Yeah.

Ms. DICKINSON: And this is just a quick way to educate them about what things cost.

NEARY: All right. Let's take another call now from Carrie in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Hi Carrie.

CARRIE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

NEARY: You're welcome.

CARRIE: I have two kids that - firstly, my daughter who is 12. Gets a lot of pressure from other kids and even other parents to why we haven't bought her a cell phone. And I think that's kind of interesting that it has even come from parents. You know, what's the matter with your parents that they haven't done that?

Ms. DICKINSON: OK. This is great because I just got a letter from a 12-year-old kid who couldn't understand why she couldn't have a cell phone. And I respond - because a lot of times, it does come from other parents and here's what I love. When another parent will say that they feel sorry for your kid -


Ms. DICKINSON: Because your kid doesn't have a cell phone or an iPod.

CARRIE: What's the matter with your parents? Why haven't they done that?

Ms. DICKINSON: Right, right. Well you know, this is - you're just instilling - the most important thing in your family is your values, right?

CARRIE: Right.

Ms. DICKINSON: And your daughter needs to - I actually think that if you do it in a certain way, she can feel proud. She can feel proud of the values in your house. And one of the things you can do - you know, certainly early on, you start when they're really young how to give, how will we give. You know, you can ask your kids to donate a little bit of their allowance.

CARRIE: Right.

Ms. DICKINSON: And this just gets them thinking about - there's always a kid out there who have so much less than your kid, you know?

CARRIE: Well, the other thing, too, that my husband and I try to talk about with our kids - it's not that we can't afford it, because we can. It's just that she doesn't need it at this point. It's a very expensive thing that she doesn't need. And therefore, we aren't going to buy it. And I think that sometimes the kids get this idea - well, they must be poor because she doesn't have a cell phone. Oh no, we're doing OK, you know. I mean, maybe the 401K is not doing it, but it's not that we can't afford it. I could go out and buy one, it's that she doesn't need it. She's only 12. When the time comes she needs it, you know, then we'll talk about it then. But I was surprised that the pressure that she received to, you know, get a cell phone, that started in about fifth grade. That just seems ridiculous that a nine or 10-year-old would need a cell phone.

NEARY: All right, I want to pursue some -

CARRIE: It's going earlier, it feels like, you know.

NEARY: Yeah, thanks for your call, Carrie. We're just have about a minute left, and -

CARRIE: Well, thank you.

NEARY: And Amy, I just wanted to ask you. She talked about she doesn't need it. So, I mean, now is the time I guess to differentiate between wanting and needing.

Ms. DICKINSON: Absolutely. That's what we're all doing. You know, when you have to choose between putting gas in your car and going out, you know, for an evening with you and your husband, that's the choice you make. And when your kids see you making those choices, that's good. That's not a bad thing.

NEARY: And the holidays are coming up, so again, this is going to be a time where parents are really going to have to be - have to be dealing with these issues with their kids.

Ms. DICKINSON: Right, time to get out those knitting needles, right?

(Sound bite of laughter)

NEARY: If only I knew how to knit, it would be helpful.

(Sound bite of laughter)

NEARY: Amy, thanks so much for joining us again.

Ms. DICKINSON: Sure, Lynn. Thank you.

NEARY: Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated Ask Amy column for the Chicago Tribune and she joins us on many Thursdays. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

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