Q. Our 14-year-old son is forever asking us for money. He wants the latest clothes, shoes, CDs. He wants money for movies, video arcades, fast food, amusement parks and so on. We're going slowly broke! We give him a $10 per week allowance. He says it's not enough, but when we give him the chance to earn more money by doing extra chores, he declines. Do you have a solution?
A. I can offer you a plan that worked for all concerned when our children were in their teen years, but let me begin by saying I agree with your son. You aren't giving him enough money.
But by the same token, you're not expecting enough responsibility of him. You're making the biggest, and most common, mistake made by parents of teens: You're attempting to micromanage.
As I point out in my latest book, "Teen-Proofing" (Andrews and McMeel), parenting a teen is a brand-new ballgame, requiring new "plays." Unaware of this, or perhaps unwilling to admit it, most parents fail to shift parenting gears when their children enter their early teen years. Instead, they keep right on trying to control. (In fact, because of the heightened anxiety that attends this parenting stage, most parents of teens try to control even more than they did when their children were younger.)
In moderation, parental control works with an 8-year-old, but it won't work with a teen-ager. From age 13 on, the more parents try to control, the less able they are to mentor their children toward successful emancipation, and mentoring is the secret to winning "Can You Parent a Teen Without Going Insane?"
Where money is concerned, your job is to help your son learn to establish good priorities, to budget. This is something he will learn only by trial and error. As things stand (by giving money with no strings attached), you're making it impossible for him to make errors and learn from them. You can remedy this by giving him more money. Yes, you read me correctly. I said, by giving him more money. Here's the plan:
1. For the next month or so, keep track of how much money you give your son for discretionary (as opposed to necessary) clothes, CDs, fast food, movies, video arcades and everything else you listed.
2. When you've collected enough data, set up a checking account with all three of your names on it. On the first of every month, deposit into the account 75 percent of the sum arrived at above.
3. Give your son the checkbook and tell him that from now on, he's to use his monthly allowance to purchase the aforementioned items and activities for himself. Say: "At your age, it must be demeaning to come to us for money. So you won't have to anymore!"
4. Tell him that though you'll no longer be controlling how he spends, under no circumstances will you ever give him a loan against the next month's allowance. In other words, when he runs out of money, he has effectively "grounded" himself for the rest of the month.
5. Make clear that if he bounces a check, you'll pay both the merchant's and the bank's penalties out of his next month's allowance and deposit only what remains.
Now he'll be able to make mistakes -- and learn from them. And as a consequence, become more responsible and independent. Perhaps best of all, you'll stop going broke.
John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at http://www.rosemond.com/parenting on the World Wide Web.
If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.