Economic Anxiety and Kids

Sharon November 12th, 2008

I’m guessing there are a lot more nervous, stressed out kids out there than there were last year.  There’s some evidence that this is true as well, including a study of teenagers that showed that 70% were worried about a short term, harsh impact on their families.    Well, there are a lot more unemployed parents, a lot more parents worrying that they may not be able to send the kid to college or pay for needed medical treatments.  If you work on Wall Street, in the Auto Industry, in the Insurance Industry, for Circuit City or even the US Postal Service (reporting its first ever layoffs), you may be wondering whether you are getting the axe before Christmas or after it.  There’s a lot of fear out there.  And scared parents mean scared kids.

This, I think, is an inevitability even if you are the best parent on the planet – and most of us aren’t.  When we’re worried, we’re snappish or sad.  Our kids see that, and being children, being magical thinking little egotists who believe that they organize and control their world, they fear/suspect that your misery is their fault.  And being creatures of routine, shifts in their normal are tough on them too – they can adapt, of course, and do to far more difficult situations than most of us face at the moment, but all this stuff is tough on them. 

It gets tougher when parents take their stress out on each other or their kids.  There are intermittent reports of rising rates of domestic violence, and there’s fairly good evidence that divorce rates are going up.  Adults are angry and afraid, and they take out on one another and their kids.  I do hope the angry and scared adults out there who need it will try to find some help from a family member, a professional, whatever resources they need.  One place you might look for wiser and more useful counsel than my own would be www.peakoilblues.com.

I’m no therapist, and I don’t claim to have a lot of good answers on this subject. I did grow up in a household where chronic boom and bust cycles undermined stabilities and where my father’s actions and mood were dictated by our economic situation, so I have quite visceral memories of how hard this can be on children, and some determination to insulate my own kids.  This is easier said than done, of course, since I’m just as prone (maybe more) to becoming grumpy and irritable when I’m worried as anyone else.

My only good advice, other than doing what is necessary to come together rather than apart when possible, and not hitting anyone, ever, is that kids get a chance to feel like they have some power in the situation.  I may be inordinately biased in favor of usefulness as a hedge against stress and anxiety, and I have not had this vetted by any real professional, so take it for what it is worth – I think we should tell the (moderated and age appropriate) truth to our kids, and let them participate in dealing with whatever crisis we’re facing (again, moderately and appropriately).  Reading the article above, I suspect the level of participation I’d permit might be higher than most parents – I think I’d let a child sell their ipod to help the family – maybe it won’t be worth the effort, but if you could get some money for it, I don’t think that’s a terrible idea.  Nor is allowing older kids to help out financially, even if their aid is small.

Now I want to be clear about what “moderate and appropriate” actually means.  I don’t think kids need to know all the bad stuff – all the things you are afraid of, all the darker scenarios that I write about.  My kids don’t.  Developmentally speaking, my oldest son is not-quite seven (Eli is older but because of his disabilities, runs younger) – and I think it is appropriate that he understand that we’re spending less money on the holidays, that we’re going to be making more donations because more people are hungry, and that we might be facing hard times that last a while, I don’t think he needs all the dark details.  For older kids, who watch tv or read the papers and who see their friends moving away or suffering, more information is needed.  In the case of older kids, it may be useful to be able to offer them contingency plans that they can’t think of themselves – observing, for example, that if we have to move, we could go stay with Grandma might actually relieve darker fears about living in a car or going hungry.  Kids often don’t realize that there are safety nets out there, so the options seem even starker to them than to us.

But all kids, from toddlers on up, I think respond gracefully to the idea that they are needed and essential. In fact, I often wonder if some of the deepest troubles kids face, especially in adolescence is that they are offered so few outlets for their talents.  Does this mean that your six year old should drop out of first grade to support the family?  Of course not.  But I think it is reasonable to ask teenagers, already of an age to work, to either contribute some of their earnings to the family if it is needed, or to defray more of their own expenses.  It is reasonable to call on pre-working age children to help watch younger sisters and brothers, or to do more chores (age appropriate and reasonable, of course) to enable their parents to spend time job hunting or earning supplemental income. 

Even toddlers can be told “we’re all working together in the garden so that we can have fresh vegetables all winter.”  It is amazing how proud children of all ages are to be doing meaningful work (even when you have to sneak back and do it over after the toddlers do it ;-) ).  The idea that your family is a unit, working together to survive and thrive, even in the face of adversity is a narrative that kids can understand and draw strength from. 

Kids can be expected to give up college if it is truly necessary – but not without a lot of help shifting their dreams.  Many American kids have grown up thinking that college was de rigeur, and absolutely necessary part of young adulthood.  You and they may not be able to pay for it – but we adults are responsible for helping kids shift their dreams, and readjust to realities.  That is, if we’ve spent their childhoods telling them that college is expected and necessary, we should expect to spend a lot of time helping them find a way to either save for college later or to find new dreams and expectations. 

And the same goes for all the trappings of middle class comfort.  We are going to find as we get less wealthy that we’ve been responsible for creating our kids’ expectations – expectations that many of us will no longer be able to fulfill.  We’ve been the ones telling them that a normal existence means new clothes every fall and birthday, a cell phone, shopping as a hobby, buying what you want at the grocery store.  We’re going to need not to just to tell them that those things have to shift, but to work on making sure that they understand that those shifts aren’t necessarily bad.

And that, I think is the most important thing.  Kids live by the stories they were told. Most mainstream American kids have learned that affluence is incredibly important, that their future was about money, and that security comes in the form of wealth.  We can’t insulate them from all the hardships that are probably coming their way, but what we can do is shift the stories they learn – they can learn that being poor is normal, and that it doesn’t have to prevent people from being happy.   They can learn that their family unit, extended or nuclear is working together in the face of difficulties.  They can understand their participation in that project as part of what is holding your family together and enabling you to keep going.  They can draw strength and pride from those experiences, from their sacrifices and their participation, even if you are scared and angry, even if they are sometimes.  But we have to start telling different stories, and thinking up new roles for our kids right now, lest the old ones drag them down.

 Sharon

44 Responses to “Economic Anxiety and Kids”

  1. Verde says:

    Great stuff here. I sure worry about my 18 year old who has arrranged to live with another family so she can take high school classes that count for college credit. She works so hard at school and I felt bad telling her her college funds had taken a hit in the stock market.

    You are so right about what their expectations are come from us. I have changed a lot in the last little while and yet what I see my kids valueing is what I valued and even instilled in them when they were young. – - A college education being the biggie.

    Our news is all over the risin homeless youth problem. They can’t go to shelters without getting reported to the police and DCFS because they’re not 18. They’re seeing a rise in older teens that get kicked out because they’re a burden on the household economy when they can’t bring in $$. Somehow that speaks more to the thinning of our social fabric than anything else.

  2. Karin says:

    I have a 15 year old son and a 2 year old son. The 15 year old has recently made rumblings of forgoing college for trade school instead. With great relief I have been encouraging that path because it might mean more reliable job opportunities; with the caveat that at 15 you don’t have to know what you want to do with the rest of your life. I think flexibility and diversified manual skills will be the most important assets kids will have to have as they move into adulthood.

  3. kaffee cat says:

    We grew up in a large family that did not have money set aside for college. When I graduated high school we were in the late 80s/early 90s recession. I went to community college, worked P/T and transferred to a state university paid for by Pell grants, my living costs were taken care of by student loans and food stamps when the unemployment rate for the college town was at its peak. I spent summers living with family or family friends. Fast-forward to the future: I’m now working on my second Masters, work F/T and have a house, one child and I am considering pursuing a Ph.D. Children should not have to put their dreams aside – where there is a will there is a way, just be prepared to be flexible, independent and work hard. I started my first job at the age of 15 while still continuing school.

  4. dewey says:

    I’ve seen a great many young rural children in a certain poor country who contribute significantly to their families’ survival: boys of five or six out supervising livestock, girls even younger toting buckets of water. They are mostly very serious-looking little kids. But, I should also say, I have NEVER seen a child in that country struck or even screamed at. Many Westerners think that the only way to make a child reliably do what you want is to punish and berate him whenever he slips. That plainly isn’t true. My own guess (FWIW, as a non-parent) is that children do not need much coercion to do tasks that are obviously important, such that they can see that they or their families will suffer if they don’t do it. Hardly anything our kids are made to do in school falls into that category.

  5. Sharon, thanks for your posting about children. From a deep time perspective, during virtually all of human history, every human knew every other human they were around, except for the very rare visitor. Change that, and a major element of stress is introduced. Other changes just compound this stress. The current social milieu of cultural collapse leads to behavioral and health problems for all. My children are grown to mid-twenties. Something they positively responded to as young children were stories; ongoing stories of our lives in the context of the world, but like they were from a different time. I gave my daughter Sarah the name, Fatima, John was Anwar, and I was Faruk. My wife Bonnie was Rabia. I got the idea from books obtained from ISHK. They have some awesome children’s books, here, http://hoopoekids.com/. We have a project in West Virginia that seeks to be a demonstration site for changed lifestyles so that we may leave a reasonable world to our children. In the end, that may be our whole reason for being:) Frank from http://EntropyPawsed.org

  6. Gail says:

    Sharon, you are spot on here. I have already lived this story. Tell kids the truth. Their imaginations are worse than reality. Team up and do shared sacrifice and responsibility. A job, at any age, is meaningful and builds self esteem. Kids can cook, clean, wash dishes, drive to school when older, and be creative when adults get weird. Teach them how to do these things. Money is nice, but love is so much more important. I truly believe my children have prospered from hardship….I know that I have.

  7. kaffee cat says:

    One last thing: the point in the article about discouraging 15 year olds from working b/c they should be “only focusing on getting ready for college” – I don’t really see that as useful…I spent my mid-late adolescence working (movie theatres, cafes, sandwich shops, retail) while still going to school. Granted, getting my B.A. took longer, but I bought all my meals and clothes when I was a teenager. I worked my way up to being a manager at one job and a buyer at another. The job skills, budgeting and independence I learned was priceless. Some of the jobs I got free food and coffee from, or got to see movies for free, or got promotional CDs. Also it felt good knowing that I was not a drag on my family’s finances and made it easier for me to become grownup. All my siblings worked as teenagers and it never interfered with their future successes, in fact the opposite is true.

  8. Rosa says:

    Kaffee kat, I worry so much about teen homelessness, and it’s getting harder and harder for teenagers to get jobs around here.

    I’m having a really hard time with this because we just made the decision that we do not have the resources for the teen host home program we were looking into – the reasoning being that if we could not even keep the house marginally tidy and find the time to fill out the full application, we probably do not have the resources for a whole extra person. (I lost the application folder, and didn’t find it again until the day before it was due, due to disorganization.) But it’s making me heartsick.

  9. Rosalie says:

    Re: “The idea that your family is a unit, working together to survive and thrive, even in the face of adversity is a narrative that kids can understand and draw strength from.”

    And this can also be the starting off point for how we begin to develop our relationships with our neighbors and in our communities. All of what you have written here can be applied to any and all of our relationships: family, friends, coworkers, clients…..

    “Working together to survive and thrive” is my new motto for my own community building efforts. Thanks, Sharon!

    Rosalie O’Leary
    Neosho, MO

  10. Jill says:

    This such a hard topic. A young friend (she’s a former student of mine) is in her 2nd year of community college and is working full-time. She’s paying for school, books, vehicle expenses but she’s still living at home. He dad lost his job last week and will be transfered out of state. They’ll lose the house here and she was already informed that they can’t provide for her if she moves with them. She’s only 19 and now she’s unsure of what to do or where to go. We want to help, but we’re ready for extended family move in. (if she ends up without a place to stay – we’d make a place for her here, of course) My folks and my brother (he’s 14) are always one paycheck away from not making it. My mom is a full-time aid for a school district and my dad edits and shoots news part-time for a local tv station. Although he’s a 4 time Emmy-winner, this is the best he can get in Michigan. My father-in-law works for GM. You all know how that’s going. They have 4 kids at home between the ages 6 and 19. I’m so thankful my husband still has a job, although we know it can be gone in an instant. We have two kids ages 4 and 1. They love to help in the garden, hanging laundry, washing dishes, sweeping. They just want to feel involved even if it’s as simple as deciding what veggies go with dinner or what to add to the cookies. Young kids want to feel loved, be involved and helpful, and help make decisions. The teens I know feel the same way.

  11. Lance says:

    (Caveat: I am Indian, so no scolding me about using the term “Indian”…that’s what we call ourselves among ourselves).

    Long ago, when Indian boys were very small, 5 or 6 maybe, their Dads made them a little set of bow and arrows. They used these to practice hunting. When they got a squirrel, or a rabbit, or even a little bird, they would take it solemnly to Mom. Their first kill was celebrated, no matter how small it was, and they were praised as hunters for anything they brought in to feed the family. They were called “that MAN” when they did things like this, to build them up. And most importantly, ANYthing they brought in, the scrawniest little bird, a big deal was made about it, and right in front of everyone, the little morsel went right into the family cooking pot, alongside the deer or buffalo or anything else. It started that early, the work, the praise as men feeding the family. Yes, we men need that building up, from the earliest experiences. You would be surprised what proud words can do, or what the reverse can do to.

    Now of course, little girls too were given miniatures of the tools they would use as women, would work alongside mom and grandma, learning to bead, to tan hides, making food, caring for the babies…this again from the age of 5 or 6. And they were also praised, and a big deal was made about the moccasins they made, and called “this WOMAN” even as a little girl when she did grownup work.

    I contrast this with what I see when I see 18 year olds in this culture, doing horrible things, and people trying to keep them out of jail saying they didn’t know any better, or they were so young. Doing terrible terrible things to each other. Unbelievable some of it. And all excused by parents, who want to be friends rather than parents. If parents built up kids from the earliest age, 2 or 3, saying how proud they were when the kid did something good, was kind, picked up toys, made a big deal, that would be something. Not ignore them when everything is going ok, or act inconsistent. And when kids do bad, shame them, be disappointed, call them a “baby.” Give them a rattle or a bottle. But then praise them again when they do good and call them a MAN or a WOMAN. That was how it was in the old traditional days among our Indian people. Back in the old days, sometimes kids even had to fight to protect their families, go to war, life and death.

    I am really sad when I see the homeless kids. No one told them to be a MAN or a WOMAN was to help the family, be courteous to strangers, have self-respect. They think being a man or woman only means to have sex, to talk vulgar, drink, be violent, nasty, do drugs. That’s not being a man or a woman. That is just being crazy (although now to many “crazy” means something good) and ugly. Teens want to be thought of as adults, it is a major thing. So how has it come to mean “adult” means sex and vulgarity, while taking care of yourself and others is “lame.” Our world is upside down.

    The homeless teens need some place they can become adults and learn how to do it the right way. A place they can learn to rule themselves and make their way without all the insanity, with trustworthy adults to help guide as resources. But sadly, our culture doesn’t give those opportunities, and so many times when they have teen communities, sick “adults” or other messed-up teens ruin every attempt that is made. Koyaanisqatsi is the word. “Life out of balance.”

  12. kaffee cat says:

    Rosa, I hear you. When I was 17 we took in my best friend who had been kicked out of her house. Many of my friends during this time ‘couch-surfed’, many staying a dozen or so in a 2-3 bdrm. apartment. They did odd-jobs, but they never panhandled or did illegal work. They had too much pride and did not want trouble from police. We all took turns sharing food and resources with each other. Some slept on people’s rooftops/garages.

    Even if you’re not able to be a teen host by going through an official program, some of my friends were helped by older adults giving them work pulling weeds and minor landscaping, or helping with household rennovation demolition (pulling up floors, tearing out sinks, etc.). I have friends that 15 years later have their own landscaping business from what they learned.

  13. BP says:

    The pictures that Ilargi & Stoneleigh have been using at the beginning of their blog really illustrate how things were for many children/young adults at the turn of the last century. I doubt that their meager earnings were spent on the “extras” of the time such as today’s iPods and cell phones.

  14. Raven says:

    This really isn’t so hypothetical. I grew up poor– we were never told we could definitely go to college. I went, but worked my tail off, got grants and scholarships, and ended up with loans anyway that I spent a good year paying off with half my salary. That’s right– half. I wanted the loan done and gone. It so happens I’m a nurse, so I think a college is necessary to that sort of training, but… I saw a lot of friends getting degrees like “nineteenth century history”. Which it seems like you can only teach; I mean, what else are you going to do, offer to repair people’s accounts of Darwin’s life for a nominal fee? And it seems like as long as you can read, you could learn about that by yourself, without a teacher. Oh well.

    I’ve never regretted feeling like college was an expensive option, not a necessity, and that I could get through life without it if I wanted to. My brother and sister do not have degrees; she owns her own business, and he manages half of a store. Nobody’s rich, but nobody’s starving.

    What I like about your blog, Sharon, is your insistence that it’s normal to be poor. I never FELT poor growing up, I just knew that a lot of things people bought (new clothes, video games, fruit roll-ups) were more expensive than they were worth. What is NOT normal is the spiraling of debt and consumption that we think we need; to me now I look around at my friends who are always complaining about money but who continue to buy manicures, hair coloring, brand-name shoes, and eat out four times a week and think that they are the poor ones. In some ways I feel bad for them, because they literally cannot imagine how to do it differently. They can only imagine life without these things as being less, because they can’t picture what to put in their place. If you don’t get manicures, don’t you feel frumpy and like you never get time for yourself? Of course, the truth is that doing without shiny and empty expensive (whether in terms of energy, or money) things is not less, but more. You never notice the sunrise unless you have to get up early enough, and quiet enough, to see it.

    Rituals of nonconsumption are where it’s at.

  15. Michelle says:

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, but I will chime in with an “Amen, sister!” My children (four of them, ages 10-5, whom I’m raising alone) understand that the garden is important. The meat rabbits are important. Bundling up in layers is important. Turning off lights is important. They are able to participate in household management, at least a little bit, and they feel good when they do.

  16. Dan says:

    @ Lance: Powerful post and true to the scary core.

  17. Ani says:

    I agree that parents need to be frank with their children given appropriate info for their ages and abilities. If kids just know what they overhear they may read all sorts of stuff into it- I remember as a child overhearing my parents having an argument(one of way too many, sigh…) about whether they could afford to buy something- my dad wanted to buy it and my mom didn’t- I believed that if they bought it we’d be penniless and on the streets or something given how my mom was reacting, so I was terrified they would buy the item in question which was meant for us kids, thus making me feel really guilty. That I still remember this must be indicative of how scary I found the whole situation. So yes, I think parents need to realize that little pitchers do have big ears and they should explain what is necessary.

    That said I know that my son didn’t realize how broke we were most of his childhood- recently he happend to remember the children I watched in the evenings after work- he had assumed that I just loved kids so much I was happy to haul home several other toddlers from his family daycare to watch all evening after working all day in my full-time job….. he had no idea I did this as we were so broke……. I guess maybe this was a good thing as he didn’t find it at all scary but just fun to have the other kids around.

    But allowing kids to pitch in and help the family is a good thing imo- they will be useful and feel needed. Watching the series “Frontier House” I realized how much meaningful and necessary work changed the children on that show, for the better. One thing we don’t have in our society anymore is much of a way for children and teens to be useful other than mowing the lawn or loading the dishwasher, feeding the dog, etc- but doing real work that makes a big difference is mostly gone. So maybe this would be a good thing if it reappeared.

    Lance, reading your post reminds me of when my son was little and I taught him to fish- he would insist that I cook his catch and so I did, fileting sunfish if you can imagine, but he was so proud to have caught our dinner……

  18. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Economic Anxiety and Kids I’m guessing there are a lot more nervous, stressed out kids out there than there were last year. There’s some evidence that this is true as well, including a study of teenagers that showed that 70% were worried about a short term, harsh impact on their families. Well, there are a lot more unemployed parents, a lot more parents worrying that they may not be able to send the kid to college or pay for needed medical treatments. If you work on Wall Street, in the Auto Industry, in the Insurance Industry, for Circuit City or even the US Postal Service (reporting its first ever layoffs), you may be wondering whether you are getting the axe before Christmas or after it. There’s a lot of fear out there. And scared parents mean scared kids. [...]

  19. Rosa says:

    Ani – my grandma always did that for us! Whole pans of tiny fileted sunfish. I had forgotten that.

    I have a very clear memory of a sixth grade classmate, in 1985 or 1986, bursting into tears because I didn’t like her part of our group project. She said her dad was laid off and they couldn’t afford more butcher paper to do it over. At that point my dad had been out of work for 3 or 6 months, and my parents were (i learned later) worried about losing the house.

    By then, I usually could tell if my dad was out of work, because my mom would switch to generic orange juice and suddenly we’d be having pancakes for Friday dinner again. But they hid it from us as best they could – my dad would get up in the morning and leave the house as if he were going to work, but job hunt or volunteer at the church all day. All we got was the freefloating anxiety.

    My family now, we would have to be really, really bad off before my son noticed any difference. We already buy all his clothes at thrift stores, bake our own bread, cook mostly vegetarian meals, keep the house pretty cold, ride bikes or the bus. If we lost everything and had to go live with his grandparents, his living standard would be *way* more normal. I think that’s one of the benefits of trying to live low-carbon – we’re living so far below our means, it’s ridiculous.

  20. Rosalie says:

    Lance,
    Thank you for sharing the wisdom of your people. I especially like how the children learned what it means to be “adult” — by being acknowledged for doing things in a mature, adult way. I think of our perverted definition of adult every time I pass one of those “adult” bookstores/video arcades along the interstate near my home.
    I will remember your story when I am with my neighbors’ children. The next time they come over to see what I’m doing in the garden, I’ll remember to give them something to do that’s useful and important, and to praise them for a job well done.
    Rosalie
    Neosho, MO

  21. My friend is a family psychologist – and the last six months she has seen a marked increase in domestic problems. Her feeling is it stems from economic troubles. Debt, jobs, housing etc. This uncertain economy is causing massive collateral damage.

  22. KathyD says:

    Yesterday I was getting my hair cut (1st time in 6 months- more a time factor than affordability factor). The stylist told my daughter she like her shirt. My girl, 9 years old, said proudly “mom got it at the consignment shop!” My gut reaction was to cringe a little- but then I was pleased that she didn’t have a stigma attached. This year for school, we scrounged up all the huge list of supplies. 24 pencils- we combed the house and sharpened a bunch of stub. 6 folders- found lots of old work folders and let her paste picture to them.

    I made sure to tell her that she might get teased, but that she should proud we reused. I think she is.

    Also about college. I review graduate applications for a large university. I’m just speechless when I read about people coming in to do 7-8 year Ph.D. program studying “Social change as reflected in Bollywood movies.” I think- how will we (as a society) survive if this is the “skill set” that people are working on?

  23. Robyn M. says:

    @KathyD–

    “Also about college. I review graduate applications for a large university. I’m just speechless when I read about people coming in to do 7-8 year Ph.D. program studying “Social change as reflected in Bollywood movies.” I think- how will we (as a society) survive if this is the “skill set” that people are working on?”

    Well, we might think “thank goodness we have some interesting people who can tell us wonderful stories about the world as it was, and how different people are, because we’ll never get to go there ourselves, and there’s no power to run our DVD players to watch it ourselves.” Or we might think “Goodness, what a waste of time.” I guess those are the rough options. With my Philosophy & French Lit majors & M.A. degrees, I rather prefer the latter–that a deep education in *anything* might turn out to be worthwhile in our new world. And there’s nothing about pursuing an 8-9 year Ph.D program that precludes their ability to garden or run a bandsaw.

    Now, for all that, I sure hope they’re not racking up student loan debt…. And I do hope they’re not just doing it to get the degree out the other end, although I don’t know how many humanities Ph.Ds I’ve ever met who are only interested in getting the paper degree. Now *there’s* a colossal misunderstanding of how worthwhile a degree is! (Speaking as nearly one myself with a similarly paper-endowed husband.) ;-)

  24. Robyn M. says:

    2nd paragraph of my above post: Er… whoops, I think I meant to say that I prefer the “former”, not the “latter”. Honestly, I always get those confused. I mentioned that I majored in French? Would you believe that “former” and “latter” work the opposite way in French as English (for a good reason), and now I always mess them up? Suffice it to say, if it doesn’t make sense as written, then I screwed it up and it should’ve been “former” instead. Sorry.

  25. Brad K. says:

    Rosa – I am not sure I would say your parents “hid” troubled times for you. They did the best they could, they kept you informed (even if they did use the ‘silent’ signal of Friday Night Pancakes).

    I grew up on a hog farm. Mom tells the story that at one point, before my sister and I started school, if Mom needed deodorant (she worked) and Dad needed shaving cream the same week – the budget was wrecked.

    I think telling kids what is happening is very important. But don’t dump on them, tell them what they need to know to understand what is happening – to them.

    Not money for the fancy stuff (or common stuff you were used to) at the grocery store? “We don’t have money for that.” Skip the “Wall street fell and Daddy’s company collapsed and all our savings are gone so you can’t have the fancy peanut butter.” Not for a five year old, not for a 25 year old.

    And I *still* like the line from “The Butcher’s Wife” – “Ten words or less, Doc. I’m on the clock.”

    Save explanations and side topics for conversation time or training time – you do handle training time differently, right? – and keep corrections and other answers to 10 words or less. Keep focus, keep control – and guide the younger ones.

    @ dewey, it was sad to read your post. No, kids don’t need being hit to control or motivate. They need discipline – the will to complete a task. That is a parental responsibility – to teach discipline. Federal courts have held it to be criminal child abuse to *fail* to teach discipline.

    But discipline is *not* the same as “disciplinary action” or “disciplinary correction”. And often, discipline does *not* follow from disciplinary actions or corrections.

    Monty Roberts caused a media frenzy when he wrote “The Man Who Listens To Horses”, about training horses without hitting them, using respect and understanding, and how he arrived at his techniques. At the end of the book he discusses bringing parties in to watch a demonstration using untrained horses, and make a good start at training in 30 minutes. He mentions that often when the group is from some corporation or other, 4 or 5 people will pass out. Usually those so affected had been abused as children, and were emotionally overloaded that connection and trust and respect and attachment could occur without abuse.

    John Lyons (Lyons on Horses), Pat Parelli (Horse-Man-Ship), and others emphasize training approaches that emphasize respect, understanding, and guiding the horse’s development. These are all appropriate background reading for teaching kids. The techniques and approaches work – you teach kids different thing. I mean, it would be a pain to always be pressing your kid’s right rib with your right lower leg, to get him/her to lift from a trot to a canter. And the neighbors would look at you funny. Tools for Teaching was written about teaching kids, of course the contents also help understand and manage groups of livestock. Tell a bunch of 7th grade kids they act like a cow herd, and they will jeer. Tell their teachers that, and they will look at you, “Well, duh!”

  26. Here where we live, a lot of my children’s schoolmates have parents who are losing their jobs. Heck, their own dad, my husband has been on short-time for almost a year, and my husband’s employer is the largest in our city and has laid off 800 people in the last few months.

    I admit, our own children are a bit scared. I remember this summer our oldest, 8 years old, came to us with her bag of quarters that we had given her for snack at daycamp. She said “here mom, I know you are having a hard time paying the bills so take my snack money.” It was the sweetest, yet most heartbreaking thing. I want her to understand that YES, things are hard…but I do not want her to ever fear being homeless or hungry or anything like that.

    We have explained to our children that Christmas this year will be much smaller than in years past, but we are going to focus on fun, family activities. Honest to Betsy, I think this year all our holidays can be more meaningful than ever. Without the cloud of consumerism, we might actually focus on the real meaning of our traditions, no?

  27. KatJ says:

    I grew up on a farm, and we were not rich, but my parents were really good at economizing. There were six of us kids and we knew that if we were going to go to college, we were going to have to pay for it. I earned a couple of scholarships and got grants and worked from the time I was fifteen in a fabric store ( the employee discount was a nice plus!) I bought or made my own school clothes and supplies. ( I got my own ride to and from work as well.) I never expected my parents to come up with money for me. It served me well later when I was the single parent of three small children, because I already knew how to manage on a tight budget. My kids, who are all adults now, like to laugh about eating porridge ( a combination of Cream of Wheat and chicken noodle soup) and thinking it was a treat (instead of the only thing left to eat in the house) and Friday night family night when we made Kix treats together (just like Rice Krispy Treats except that the Kix were free through the WIC program and marshmallows were cheap). They had no idea we were desperately poor, though.
    And now, even though my husband has what in a normal economy would be a solid, well-paying job that he is great at and has done for years, we find the paychecks covering less and less. So, I’m back to economizing. I read Sharon’s book Depletion and Abundance right after it came out and it lit a fire in me. I’ve stocked up on food (like Miss Mouse said to do) and added hanging the laundry out on the line and retiring my practically new dishwasher to my list of ways to reduce my carbon footprint. My car sits in the drive 6 out of 7 days per week. All of this definitely has freed up some cash. I’m glad to get a head-start on it, as it looks like the national economy is nose-diving. And in the spring, I’ll start planting . . .

  28. Shaunta says:

    I have a lot of personal issues surrounding teenagers supporting their families/foregoing college. I worked from the time I was thirteen and gave all of my income to help my family. I have eight siblings and when I was a teenager, my father was in prison and my step-mother was an alcoholic teacher (low-income, never around.) I never got to participate in anything at school beyond classes. And I didn’t go straight to college because I was still working to support my family and my step-mother went instead to work on her Masters in order to raise her income.

    Fast-forward to now. My sixteen-year-old daughter has wanted to go to California for college since was literally five years old (and her favorite aunt was at USC.) And I’m struggling with internal demons that demand that my kids should not have to work while they’re in high school. My daughter does do about ten hours a week of babysitting her 3-year-old sister that she gets paid for. She uses the money to pay for her various and many trips for band and drama.

    As for college? She has her life planned out and it takes place in Berkeley, but I’m afraid that we’re all going to end up being grateful that Nevada has a program to pay for four years of state university if your grades in high school are good enough. In the meantime, I’m working on getting past my own past so that I can let her work this summer and maybe next year (her junior year.)

  29. Jill says:

    Kids are perceptive. I was praying with my daughter last night (she’s only 4) and she prayed that her dad wouldn’t lose his job. My husband’s job is fairly stable for now, but her Grandpa lost his job a while back and a lot of other people we know are in the same boat. GM is the major employer in the area so this is only going to get worse. When she brings these things up we speak very matter-of-fact about it all and try to figure out how we can help and what we can cut back on.

  30. Pine Ridge says:

    Lance I could hug you :)

    On Tuesday I was sick with a stomach virus, and there was no school due to Veterans Day. Three times that day my sons (11 & 8yo) went and got wood from the pile and stacked on the porch for me, my daughters (10& 6yo) did the laundry and helped me fold it. Not a complaint or grumble from them. They know that normally when I ask them to work I am right there with them working also, but they were more than willing to take over when I wasn’t able. I try to tell them that everything they do around the house is valuable, either for the job itself or to save me time so we can do more fun things together.

    My kids know all the doom & gloom, but they also know that we are doing what we can to be secure. I do not guarantee that their life will not change, but when it does change they will know exactly why and we’ll think of ways to cope together. That’s all I know how to do at this point.

    One thing I have done several times with them is let them each have $20 to spend for our food storage on what they want. Yeah, I end up with 8 half pound chocolate bars and other junk, lol, but it gives them a measure of control, and they know there is something to look forward too. We also start eating the “kid preps” after a couple of months so they have a reason to think about what to add the next time. The ingredients for smores are high on the list since you cook them over a fire, and kids love camp fires.

  31. dewey says:

    Brad K – I certainly don’t support aggressive parenting. Okay, I only have a cat, but she has learned a pretty impressive skill set with only positive feedback. My point was that if you did field work in any American Wal-Mart parking lot, it would not take you long to record multiple incidents of parents yelling, criticizing, belittling, threatening, and even dragging kids by the arm if they don’t hustle fast enough. Yet with all this negativity, which the parents involved call “discipline,” the kids still don’t behave very well. It would be nice if they could learn something from those traditional peoples who seem to discipline their kids much less and yet the kids are a lot better disciplined! I thought Lance’s account was charming and reflected considerable wisdom in that culture.

  32. tarynkay says:

    I have been reading here for a very long time, but this is the first time I have commented. So I should say, I love your writing and have found it tremendously helpful. Thank you for all of your work on this, Sharon.
    I do not want to make light of the crushing circumstances of many, many American families. I am certain that there is a lot of real poverty in this country and I do not want to demean that at all. There are children who go to bed hungry (which is obscene and we should help them) but I don’t think that most American children are going to bed hungry. (I love, by the way, that part of your economic discussion with your children is the increased need to donate to the community.)
    But I have noticed that I have never spoken to anyone who considered himself rich. Which is crazy, right? This is an incredibly rich country- as demonstrated by the boy in the article who wanted to sell his ipod to help the family. Our standard of living is so very high here that even if we cut it in half, we are still better off than most of the world.
    There is a lot of debate here about how much truth to tell our children, and I appreciate that. But I think that if we are to tell the Truth, we have to tell both sides of it. As in, yes, we have less money now. But we are still so wealthy- we’re not talking about cutting back to one meal a day (yet), we’re talking about cutting back on Christmas presents. That is amazing. Praise G-d that this is so. Pancake night can be depressing or it can be a treat. This depends a lot on our own adult perceptions, that is, feeling wealthy even though we don’t have as much as we used to.
    It is just as important to teach children to be happy about pancakes as it is to teach them to cook pancakes. I’m not talking about faking it. I’m talking about actually learning to be happy with what we have in all true real life and then teaching our kids to do the same.
    As for letting children help, I think that this is essential. I agree with Lance- we’re not raising children, we’re raising adults. Isn’t it weird that we’re expected to have these nonproductive houseguests for 18 years or so? It’s like vacations- 50 weeks of misery in exchange for 2 weeks of joy. The idea is that adult life is so miserable that we have to shield children from it for as long as possible. I am not saying that we should revoke the child labor laws or anything. But letting children contribute is a powerful thing.

  33. DEE says:

    I am grateful my folks grew up in the Depression…although they both had Masters’ degrees and excellent jobs they were extremely frugal and we weren’t spoiled. Can’t remember ever going out to supper unless on our yearly vacation to see America first. My sis and I took turns making dinner,did our own laundry and had clothing allowances…if we spent it all on sweaters and had no underwear or shoes it was just too bad!!! Money was openly discussed. Shopping was not a hobby! My mom canned fruits/veggies every summer although she surely could afford to buy them. When I shocked them and married at 18 my mom said you need to get a trade…so off to LPN school and thank God, she told me that as my job is about as recession-proof as they come
    We always raised our kids to understand our financial position. They had chores that mattered…not “make work” as we always had cows to milk and wood to cut. But they knew they were responsible for this work and we wouldn’t be following behind them doing it…it was part of being a family. Kids recognize real work that contributes to everyones welfare. This country keeps kids “kids” too long with their extended years in school. Some don’t get out to the real world until 30 years old…and haven’t a clue what to do when they get there. DEE

  34. Maeve says:

    The narrative of “security” that is shaped for you in your formative years is extremely powerful.

    I was fortunate to have spent those years on a tiny farm, with gardens and fruit trees, chickens and goats, going to the mountains for wood, putting produce in the root cellar and canned goods in the pantry.

    I say “fortunate” because the things that I and my family will likely face out of necessity, are things I already partially do, and are things which bring me a sense of solidity.

    For someone else, who grew up with a different narrative of ‘security’, this sort of a life is likely going to be frightening, stressful, etc.

    We can start helping kids NOW by being examples for any children we are around. By talking of our windowsill pot of basil, or our backyard garden, or how cool you thought it was for so&so to give you a recycled gift, and so forth. Praise the little ones for fixing their stuff, rather than lamenting over a broken zipper pull or bent notebook cover. That sort of thing.

    It makes a bigger difference than people realize, than *I* realized. Until the day when I was enforcing a “room cleaning” for my oldest child, and discovered they’d started filching cans from the pantry to start a “back up” pantry. LOL!!!

  35. BoysMom says:

    We tell the stories about Meme (husband’s mom) growing up in the village, about my Pilgram ancestors, about my gramma on the other side coming over on the ship through Ellis Island and why her family left the Old Country. The stories of our ancestors. Poverty and priorities are written all through them, but not blatently. I don’t know if the kids realize that we’re wealthy compared to our ancestors or not. They don’t seem particularly upset about the current economic situation, but then our personal economy isn’t as bad as it used to be . . . I know things are worse for a lot of folks, but compared to six years ago things are looking pretty good around here.

  36. Shelley says:

    tarynkay
    I so agree with you that kids in America today are vastly better off than any humans in history. My kids and I talk about this a lot….how even the Kings and Queens didn’t have hot showers with the turn of a faucet, or antibiotics for strep throat.

    The main suffering that comes with economic downturn is emotional…the stress and uncertainty of loosing a job, or being able to pay bills. But if everything completely fell apart for my family, no job, no income….we would still have family, a roof over our heads, meals and a hot shower at the turn of a faucet. Nobody is facing death in an economic depression.

    And about having an advanced degree in something ecclectic….well, lets imagine the absolute worst….the failure of infrastrucutre/government. If we all revert to the ancient model of local economies centered around some common institution like a church, those with education will have that to offer other, to preserve the learning we have gained up to this point….Dreher calls it the Benedict option. I don’t know where he got the term, but it’s a great idea for how to organize a society if the infrastructure were to crumble. Which I don’t think it will. But always be prepared, right?

    Raising Capable People and Kids Are Worth it by Barbara Colorosa both advocate building character and self esteem in children by giving them responsibility, lots of it, and like Lance said, praising them for a job well done…and conversely, letting them feel the full consequences for their mess ups….no rescuing. It works. It is HARD to do. We are designed by evolution to keep our kids from suffering. But it’s how we all learn lessons we never forget.

    My favorite example from Colorosa’s book is about not nagging. She says to the kid.

    “Son, I want you to take the garbage out before dinner. Now what do I want?”
    “Take the garbage out (mumbled)”
    “When to I want it?”
    ” Before dinner.”

    So of course the kids forgets, so at dinner time, you set the table without a place or food for him. He comes to dinner….and Whoa! No dinner. You don’t even need to say a word….not one nag…..kids takes out the trash and then he eats. It really works. And her book is funny.

  37. KathyD says:

    Robin M,

    I don’t know if you will come back here to read this.

    I hope you are right and that people with rich stories will be prized and respected in our “new world.” I come from the agricultural and environmental sciences and know that skews my perspective. Water and food are such fundamentals and I see such a gap in our abilities, the pipeline of capable thinkers, innovations that are not just GMO and green revolution use of high inputs.

    Our agriculture colleges lack students (we have almost no students working on local foods in any form) and I just happened to recieve a 4 foot high stack of graduate school applications. The theme for these fellowships was related to “sustainability.” In all those many 1,000′s of pages- the words “climate change” appeared just a couple times. I nearly shook with fear for our future that so many people were investing in the abstract while the foundations of food, water, environment are crumbling.

    But again- I recognize that is my bias. Why worry? The corn harvest on our farm was 180 bushels per acre. That one field (200 acres) could feed 2,000 people (12 bushels of corn per person per year) for a year. So what am I worried about???

    But still I worry- Our food system is tenuous — it needs oil, fertilizer, and farmers (who are gone from the landscape). It needs people to save seeds, to butcher, to preserve food, grow orchards.

    And you are right… You can study Bollywood Films (love them!) for eight years and know how to spin, plant, preserve. I just wish as many people came into Plant Pathology, Entomology, Horticulture, Agronomy, Animal Science, Soils Science, Water Resource Sciences, as come into the humanities…

  38. dewey says:

    I had gotten the impression that the “Benedict option” was all about good [i.e. Christian] religious people voluntarily withdrawing from a sinful secular world [i.e. avoiding all the rest of us]. Is that incorrect? I would not bet on small religious communities preserving knowledge these days, when you look at the outright hatred the Palinite wing expresses for those who are too smart or educated. It might not be too safe to be the guy in an Alabama “lifeboat community” who was trying to keep and pass on knowledge of the history of Indian cinema. The Catholics might at least preserve Latin, for what that’s worth.

  39. Raven says:

    Catholics preach in local languages since the 1960s, not Latin. (I’m not Catholic, but grew up in a very Irish Catholic town.) And are you sure that all the people who admire Sarah Palin are hateful toward people they view as “too smart or educated?” I liked her, am educated, and keep coming back here to see what you all are saying, and I hate none of you though I disagree with several of you. You’re welcome in my lifeboat as long as you’re willing to take a turn at the oars. :) It might use up some time ’round the community campfire to be able to recount “Bride and Predjudice” in an Alabama where there is no more TV, radio, or electric light to read by. (I’m not from Alabama either, for the record my ancestors fought on the other side of the War Between the States.) But more to the point–

    I think the “Benedict option” is just a name for transmission of knowledge like happened in the Irish monestaries and some others during the Dark Ages. The Irish monestaries, because they copied books feverishly, are the reason that many Greek and Roman manuscripts survived the fall of Rome. That IS historical fact; whether it would happen again or not I doubt, since the Church is no longer the place where people go to get educated like it was in the 9th century. That and very few churches have private printing presses anymore– I’m assuming if we have to recopy books, our laser jets won’t be running.

  40. dewey says:

    I think if the Catholics were back to hand-copying books in monasteries, they’d probably emphasize Latin more; some of the traditionalists already do.

    No offense intended towards you. Not every conservative Christian falls into the group I refer to, not by any means. But in some places, there is undeniably a fair amount of small-town and blue-collar hostility towards “eggheads” and “elitists”, which Palin herself defined as “anyone who thinks they’re better than someone else” (her own rhetoric contrasting the real, pro-America parts of America with my part not counting, apparently). She represents a large constituency when she responds to scientific results she doesn’t like by rejecting those fields of knowledge. Look how many people are convinced that the whole fields of biology, climatology, and atmospheric physics are part of the Great Satanic/Librul-Socialist Conspiracy. If we ever got the TEOTWAWKI some fantasize about, I’d hate to be an honest biology teacher in Wasilla under Mayor Palin with no outside court system to rely upon for protection.

  41. Shani Touch says:

    Great info, thanks for the post!

  42. My girlfriend is really smart and pretty but when she laughs it sounds like shes going to hyperventilate?

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