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When Kids Want to Buy, Buy, Buy

If you're the parent of a preteen, you've likely heard this line many times: "I have to have it because everyone else does." The "it" can be anything from designer jeans to a video game.

Why do children want to be like everyone else? They're going through a transition from child to adult, says Vivian Seltzer, Ph.D., a University of Pennsylvania psychology professor. "They need external verification that they're part of a group. Material items are visible and help them feel like they fit in."

What's a parent to do? Don't argue about the cost, says Myrna Shure, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia and author of Raising a Thinking Preteen. Instead, ask your child to think about why dressing like someone else is the only way to be accepted. Let children make up their own minds about why they shouldn't have to change to keep friends.

You also can talk with children about money management and media messages. If they insist on getting the item, tell them they'll have more money to spend on other things when they buy a less costly brand. Or let them use their allowance and suggest odd jobs that they can do to earn the rest.

Experts recommend giving a teen a quarterly clothing allowance. Be firm with the amount, but place no restrictions on how the money is spent. If your teen decides to blow the entire amount on one or two items, that's his or her choice. But make it clear that if your teen wants money beyond the budget, he or she will have to earn it.

Dollars and sense

  • Explain the value of saving. The earlier your children learn, the better. For instance, have children give part of their money to charity, save some and let them spend the rest.

  • Respect your own money. Tell your children that it represents your hard work. Talk about what your family buys and why.

  • Teach kids to question advertisements. Do they promote stereotypes? What emotions do they evoke?

  • Have children check out http://pbskids.org/dontbuyit/. This Corporation for Public Broadcasting site helps make children media-savvy. They'll also learn to spot advertising tricks.