"We’re okay, our family’s okay, I always reassure them, but the way we stay okay is to be really careful about how we spend our money." Jeanette Stoneman, mother of five from Hamden, Conn., said this is how she talks to her kids about the economy. It struck a chord with me, and I’m hardly alone. Our polling unit interviewed 500 young people, ages 12 to 17; 62 percent of them said their families had cut back on spending.
67 percent said their parents seemed worried about the economy. If their parents worried, 75 percent of the kids said they were too. You can find the full results HERE. This is not, obviously, a science story, but it is one about human behavior in complicated times. How to talk to your kids about the downturn, especially if you’re affected yourself? Is there a silver lining in dark economic clouds? “I think there is a silver lining for parents and families,” said Marybeth Hicks, a columnist and author about parenting. “I think this economy is going to give parents the opportunity to regroup in terms of the values that we’re teaching our children with respect to money and materialism.” “Parents need to learn to say no and need to have confidence in that,” she said. “It isn’t always in their best interest to give them everything they want, even if you could, because i think they need to learn that waiting for something, delaying gratification, sacrificing, those are important aspects of character development.” Ms. Hicks’ column, which runs in the Washington Times and elsewhere, focused on this point in October; take a look at it HERE. But she — and everyone else with whom we spoke — said it’s key to tell your children that they’ll be all right. We spoke to Dr. Richard Gallagher, Director of the Parenting Institute at the Child Study Center at New York University. “Young kids, younger than eight, will be very concerned that this means that their entire life will change, and their safety and their economic security is in jeopardy,” he told us. “So parents should be very careful about that and just be let kids know that their basic food, shelter, education, and need for health care is taken care of.” Children between eight and 12 will get concerned a lot about how it’s looking with their peers,” Gallagher said. “But, again, if parents are really solid about saying these are the basic things that we’re taking good care of and we’re going to continue to do that, those kids will get through this well also.” As for teenagers: “I think that adolescents can be told, ‘We may have to cut back on different ways but, again, your basic needs are going to be taken care of and we’re going to be here to help you handle that.’” The bottom line, he said, is reassurance. And it’s not misplaced. Gallagher pointed out that people who grew up during the Great Depression often remember it fondly. “They didn’t need a lot of things to have a family that functioned well. They were able to do other things even though there were stresses and strains.” On that note, I hope you enjoy your holiday, the economy notwithstanding.