Now that Kevin is earning his own money through tutoring and babysitting – and quite a bit of it for a fourteen-year-old, I must say – we’ve attempted to lay down some ground rules in order to impart on him the principles of responsibility, frugality, and delayed gratification. In other words, prioritize wants and needs, learn to put away for a rainy day, and you don’t have to have everything you want right now. To this end, we’ve allotted Kevin a certain amount to have on his person to use at his discretion for things he wants that we are not willing to pay for. Anything he accrues over and above that allowance is to be handed over to myself, who divides it between Kevin’s savings account and his upcoming eighth grade trip to Washington DC (which, for the record, has a total price tag of well over $2,000, the majority of which we are paying for, but which we expect Kevin to contribute to since he is, in fact, earning a good amount of money these days).
When we first laid down these ground rules a while back, Kevin seemed okay with the arrangement. However, as time has gone on, he’s become a little resentful about having to hand his money over to us, the parents. From where I’m sitting, I can’t fathom what he thinks he should have instant access to what at this point amounts to hundreds of dollars for. We provide him with all of his necessities and a good deal of his non-necessities. The only things he needs cash for are frivolous things like apps for his iPhone (he has my old iPhone, which is not hooked up to any service but which he can still use for apps, and which I sold to him for $50), the occasional school lunch he wants to indulge in (which I refuse to pay for at this point because it’s crap and we have perfectly good lunch food here at home), and things like that. I think his thing at this point is just a matter of flexing his independence muscles and wanting to be in charge of his own stuff. Which I get, I really do. But I don’t think he’s yet old enough or savvy enough or responsible enough to manage his money wisely on his own. Hence the parameters.
Today we went round and round about it. It came up because he had found $25 on school grounds a few weeks ago and turned it into the office. Nobody claimed it, so today he was called to the office and given the cash. He told us about it after school and I reminded him that this was money over and above his allowance, so he needed to hand it over to put in savings. He balked. And we went round and round, with him insisting that a revised set of rules with regard to his money needed to be put into place immediately, and us insisting that while we are happy to listen to any ideas he might have, the fact of the matter is that he is the child and we are the parents and we get to decide the rules, not out of meanness, but from our own collective wisdom and life experience and a wish to impart certain values on him.
Later, Michael and I were talking about it, about how resistant Kevin suddenly seems to be to going along with the plan that’s been in place for a while now. I said to Michael, “Gosh, what if he starts stashing money away? We’d never know about it.” Never dreaming, of course, that Kevin would actually do something like that. Just then, Kevin happened to come into our room. The timing was uncanny! I said to him, “Geez, Kev, I hope you’d never stash money away and be sneaky and dishonest like that. Is there anything you want to tell us?” (Never dreaming, of course, that Kevin would actually do something like that. Seriously, it was completely hypothetical.) Kevin suddenly looked stricken. He said, “Yes . . .” I said, “What?” He said, “I have money stashed away.” I was dumbfounded. “How much?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “Well, you better go get it then,” I told him. He came back a few minutes later with $81 in cash – and that was over and above his allowance. So he’s been holding money back and squirreling it away for a while, and being dishonest and sneaky about it.
Gosh. I’m just so surprised. And really, really disappointed. And I told him as much. All this time I’ve gone on and on about what a great kid he is, about how so far he hasn’t given us any real problems, how he’s honest and decent. And fundamentally, I do believe those things about him. But I also feel duped. And disappointed in myself for lulling myself into thinking he’d never do anything like that.
It’s funny . . . the other night I hosted my book club at my house, and a few of us were standing around chewing the fat after the party broke up and we were saying how if the time ever comes when our kids are teenagers and do something (most likely, something we ourselves did as teens that turns our stomachs at the thought of our own kids doing), how are we going to react? Will we keep our cool, or will we come unglued?
I didn’t come unglued. I actually think I did a pretty good job of keeping my cool, while still giving him a serious talking-to about trust and honesty and integrity and responsibility and making good choices. And I’m trying to keep this in perspective – after all, it’s his own money he was stashing away; it’s not like he stole it, and it’s not like I caught him with a beer or something. Yet. But that’s the thing – this is just the beginning. He’s fourteen, and in the coming years he’s going to be exposed to a whole world of stuff, and he’s going to be faced with a lot of choices. I can’t delude myself into believing that he’s going to stay squeaky clean and that he’s always going to make the right choices.
It scares me.