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Editor's column: The parental plight

September 13, 2010
By Per Peterson

I don't think it's fair to say parenting is tougher now than it was 30, 50, 70 years ago. With each generation comes its own challenges. It's hard for some of us to imagine being a parent and raising a family during the Great Depression, and even though the Great Recession has some similarities, it pales in comparison to all that happened in the 1930s.

That said, however, there are plenty of new challenges today's parents have to deal with. More of our teens are having sex and more of our young girls, real-life versions of Juno, are visiting gynecologists and pediatricians at a younger age. Grandparents are raising their kids' kids, more and more gaining legal custody of them and taking over the parental role on a permanent basis.

Then there's technology. Ten-year-olds carry around $100 cell phones and $200 iPods. That's enough to freak any parent out. Kids fixate themselves on the computer at home for hours on end, opening the door for cyberpredators to reach out and touch them - figuratively, and sometimes, literally when they can coerce a 13-year-old girl to meet them somewhere. For all its splendor, the Internet has its downside, too, and parents need to continuously be on guard when it comes to monitoring what their kids are emailing, saying, texting.

These two things added together - belt-tightening, tough economic times, plus expensive, must-have technological devices - have made raising a kid in the 21st century more of a mountain than a molehill, especially for middle-class parents who want the best for their kids, the top-notch technology, but also know the money is not always going to be there to buy it.

That's why it's more important today than ever that these parents know how to handle the money they do have and, to take it a step further, teach their children about money. The United Way of Southwest Minnesota is facing these issues and trying to be proactive in reaching out to young parents and educating them on financial literacy.

"You talk to people who grew up during the Depression, my own mother has talked about how money was way, way tight but they felt like they had a good life," United Way of Southwest Minnesota Director Ruth Ascher said. "I think it's harder for families today because there's a lot of pressure on these families. Buying things can be very expensive. There's different pressures out there for parents."

Ascher said it's important for parents to drill certain financial knowledge into their kids' heads. It's one thing for the kids to learn how to count money, and some schools issue pretend checkbooks to younger students in an effort to get them to understand what it's like keeping one balanced, but it's another thing for parents to teach kids about handling money, whether it's at home or when they're out shopping.

"Just a week or two ago I was in the checkout line and witnessed something - and we've all had the same issue - the children were having a meltdown, they were tired, hungry and they obviously couldn't differentiate between needs and wants at the checkout stand," Ascher said. "That really kind of shows it goes a little deeper in the whole thing of the parenting that goes on at that moment and helping the kids understand the difference between that immediate gratification and needs and wants. It really leads toward how we spend our money and how we use our money."

The United Way of Southwest Minnesota is working with ECFE and Head Start programs from around the region to build awareness about financial literacy and things those groups can do to help parents help their kids be more money smart. The United Way works with these organizations in train-the-trainer sessions, and the information gained at these sessions will be taken by the educators to the parents in their respective workshops in the area. That's where, Ascher hopes, it will hit home.

"This is a result of people in the community saying parents want better tools to help their kids," she said. "When we were talking with ECFEs they were talking about instant gratification, the inconsistent choices parents are making. For instance, they might have a big-screen TV but no sofa to sit on. It comes down to the choices and comes back to the needs-and-wants thing. What do we really need? What are some choices we need to make?

"One of the things that has come up that people have repeatedly been concerned about is the whole issue of financial awareness," Ascher added. "The concerns we've heard are more in terms of trying to find ways to help families raise their kids to be a little bit more money smart. Many families are in their own throes of struggling with financial issues and dealing with basic financial literacy. Hopefully this is a way we can help young families start discussion in their own families and thinking about what they can do."



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