Sean and I were running an errand this afternoon. He’s 10. He was lamenting from the back seat that his friend, Levi can’t play GTA because his older brother is not game sharing with him on Xbox, anymore.
Sean and Levi play Overwatch, and other PC and Xbox games while Skyping long distance across time zones. But GTA5 is a game Sean got for his birthday, and they’ve had a few marathon gaming sessions already. Sean suggested that maybe he could use some of his birthday money to buy Levi the game so that they could play it together, again. He had no thoughts of, “that’s MY money and I am not going to share it because it’s all I have.”
I told him that I was really glad that I’d been able to impart to him that money is just a tool, that it comes and goes. He chimed in, “and yeah… you can spend it how you want.”
He has had plenty of practice spending it on what we need. Still, I try my best to not make him pay for things as a child if I can find a way to do so, myself. I know that he appreciates that – it doesn’t result in a spoiled child as myth and mainstream society might assert. It results in a conscientious child.
For a long time, he wasn’t really conscious of how much money he had at a given time. We’d spend it here or there, which often entailed me spending the money and paying myself back. But, sometimes I didn’t pay myself back. I tried not to if I could help it. Then, when $5 was really the difference between ordering pizza or some other immediate want, it was still there for the using. As he has matured, he now updates the check register that he keeps in his head and remembers the amount.
Anyway, we talked about the alternative perspective where money is viewed more as a security blanket, where scarcity becomes a mindset.
We all have that fear-based attachment to money to some degree.
I’m not averse to perspectives for abolishing money altogether, but I see where other systems have their limitations. I do use Simbi and practice local trading of goods and services where possible. But in general, my mother instilled in me that money is a useful tool.
My Dad grew up dirt poor, and my mother grew up with the proverbial silver spoon. Somehow, my father was inherently generous and never preached about money, so I don’t know that economic class dictates seeing money as a security blanket. His own father was extremely abusive and squandered the family’s resources on gambling. I’m not quite sure how my Dad escaped attachment to money, but, I’m glad that he did.
Sometimes you have money. Sometimes you don’t. Happiness is not dependent upon either of those things. And really, this perspective makes it easier to declutter and let go of things at garage sales, or to accept change when it occurs. Having attachment to money is something my son has evidently escaped as well.
As we were returning from our errand, Sean wondered how long it would take a person to make a million dollars at a certain salary if they didn’t spend anything they earned. We figured a rough estimate based on his Dad’s gross income in our heads over a decade, but before I could add in the arbitrary percentage that would bring the total to one hundred grand per year during that decade, I had become too pedantic, and he was ready to move on to another consideration, “I understand all that, but…”
He switched to wondering about the value of money over time.
As we walked across the yard from the garage, I was telling him (probably not for the first time) that his Poppa used to tell a story about how he would get a quarter on a Saturday and pay for bus fare both ways to and from town, a movie, snacks, and ice cream or a burger afterwards and still have five cents left over. This was in the 1930s.
Sean asked what a penny could buy then as to now, and I fumbled trying to guesstimate an answer, which led to us talking about what people lived off of back then, and how much a car would cost.
Then Sean wanted to know specifically why the value in money changes like that over time. I offered to Google (having spent only one high school semester on economics study my entire academic career), but he interrupted by saying, “… I mean, I know what inflation is, but why does the value of the dollar change?”
Uh… EXCUSE me? You know what inflation is? I don’t even truly understand how to explain what it is, how do YOU know what it is?
He replied, “Well, I can give you an example. It’s when they produce too many things. Like, if you have a horse and you want to lead it with a carrot and a stick. But, due to inflation, you have too many carrots and not enough sticks.”
WHAT the? How the? Where did you learn that?! “From Gaigin Goombah, and some other YouTubers.”
That’s a gaming YouTuber, BTW. Think your kids aren’t learning when they are gaming or just watching videos? Think again! This is one tiny example of what I see happening again and again throughout any given day.
This is one example of whole life evolution without school.
I embrace what he chooses to do with his time, with his things, and his money belongs to him. Whether it comes from selling toys, gifts, or otherwise, he is in control. Often, he offers to use his money to chip in on things. We were saving it for a trip to Yellowstone, but this idea for Levi and the GTA game seems more like a common sense solution to an immediate problem. We’re going to Yellowstone either way since the day for free entrance to National Parks is coming up soon – barring a blizzard that would keep us from passing through the mountains to get there.
Living in the now in this way hurts no one. It is useful because it helps them as children (for such a short time!!) to do what they want to do, which is to play and interact over a game… to have fun. Childhood is for having fun. For playing. For learning to navigate personal autonomy and sovereignty. For practicing at real life.
My role is to facilitate this process, to be present and mindful to promote connection, and to ensure his safety without cramping his style.
His job is to be and to learn discernment from making choices that some kids aren’t allowed to make until adulthood, when their unpracticed mistakes are costly and often harm themselves and others.
We looked at Amazon and found that the game has gone up $6 since I got it for his birthday. He has talked about trading in Just Dance that he got last year for credit, which will reduce the cost of GTA5. He wants to ask Levi if he would be Ok with him buying the game for him. That’s a just another small example of how discerning he is at a tender age, wanting to make sure it’s a choice that will be amenable to all involved.
It is living and interacting in this self-directed way that Sean has learned and taught himself what he needs to know to live his particular life with self-awareness.
The point is, all of this freedom hasn’t corrupted or spoiled my child. It has helped him create his own happiness by making his own choices, and it has ensured intrinsic motivation to make his choices count.
When he isn’t feeling the best, he seeks out wholesome foods and rest. When he craves interacting with main stream friends, he seeks out opportunities like going to the Y after-school program, but he is glad he doesn’t have to go if he’s having fun gaming with long distance friends online, or if he wants to veg in front of YouTube.
When we run errands, he learns. When we relax in front of Netflix together, he learns. When we take trips or pursue regular activities like shopping or martial arts, he learns. But, learning is never a separate part of his life. It is inherent.
Besides, sitting together watching Netflix gives me the perfect opportunity to reach over and tickle him, which he loves. I personally hate being tickled, just FTR. But, the cackle he emits when being tickled is second to none! It satisfies his need for physical affection at an age when he’s less inclined to want kisses from his Mom.
I am so thankful that I know all about my child’s life, his interests, and anything that has triggered him throughout his day. We are friends, and we have always been friends.
Since I know when and where to ebb and flow so that he has the degree of space or connection he needs as a unique being, I can ensure that his needs are met. If I can’t meet his wants, I set out to help him figure out how to achieve the ends necessary.
One reason I find it so easy to trust him at 10 is because I stepped outside of my comfort zone to trust him at 5. I saw that he is fully capable of making choices with both self-awareness and consideration. I am so certain of his inherent motivations that I have absolutely no fear of what choices he might make at 15. We’ve developed understanding for each other’s dislikes and likes, and I don’t demand that he see the world as I do.
Kids are far more capable at life than many adults who themselves weren’t raised within conscious paradigms. It’s what we take away from kids in institutional settings and patriarchal environments or by coercing them into arbitrary standards that sets them up for costly mistakes in their adulthood.
What is important to recognize from Sean’s questions about money is that he consumed information of his own choosing that then led to additional questions about what he had learned from his self-driven pursuits. He then sought out a resource – in this instance, me, to help him further understand the concepts he was learning about.
Kids do not need to be taught. They simply need to be trusted and provided the freedom to teach themselves.
In searching for images for this blog post, I came across many extant articles about kids and money. Some involved teaching kids to give from their resources. I don’t think it models respect for others to coerce or manipulate kids into giving to charity in any way. I think that giving is individual, and that modeling compassion and generosity is the best way to impart the same traits to kids, without conditions. You know the old adage about actions and words, right?
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