I recently got in a debate with a close friend about his wanting to get his not-yet-16-year-old a car.  “He’s done well in school; he deserves it,” my friend says. This same friend is financially strapped and in constant debt, yet wants to please his son whose many friends all have cars.

My wife and I regularly spar over what constitutes being spoiled and she believes, for example, that the fancy cell-phones I just got for the boys, her, and myself were too much. “What do they have to look forward to?” she asks.

This is the ultimate juggling act for my generation of parents, who seem inclined to pamper their kids, delay their growing up, and otherwise give them everything they desire. It seems we’re all trying to compensate for some perceived slight our kids are suffering at our hands, whether it’s the dual-working parents or, in my case, the ugly divorce and absentee Mom. I feel bad for them, so I buy to assuage those feelings. Yet, I agree with my wife that there are valuable lessons the boys can learn by delayed gratification and hand-me-downs.

So, my teenager (not 16 for another 14 months, but who’s counting) is clear that he’s not getting a car when he turns 16. In fact, he won’t even get his license if he’s not maintaining an agreed upon grade average (a “B”).

He understands that spending money is earned, in part, by doing his required chores and finding small jobs. He’s limited in that regard by his age, but when we recently moved and the next-door neighbor mentioned that she needed help cleaning her horse’s stalls, I leapt at that opportunity for him. His first response was “ugh, that’s disgusting,” until I reminded him what those smoothies he loves and iTunes songs cost.

I will provide my boys with many wonderful life experiences, but they will learn to earn the extras, wait and save for the big-ticket items, and maybe, just maybe, only get to drive my car occasionally.

Hopefully, if I’m lucky, this way they’ll actually move out of the house before finishing their 20s.

Image credit: ydhsu

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