Dad, Can You Really Afford Your Teenager?

Father's Day cards sport some pretty typical jokes, with the punch lines often asking Dad for money in one way or another. But these days, fathers aren't laughing over the pressure they face to dole out the dollars on their kids.

Mirroring the general rise in consumerism over the last few generations, teenagers are spending more money than ever. Just last year, 31.6 million teens spent $155 billion, according to the Northbrook, Ill.,-based market research group Teenage Research Unlimited. Much of that money, of course, comes from parents.

Shocked at how much money kids spend? Maybe you haven't checked the price tags lately on some of the younger generation's must-haves.

Tickets to the *NSYNC concert at Chicago's Soldier Field this weekend could set you back more than $75 a pop. That's still cheaper than the latest Air Jordan shoe from Nike, which goes for $160 a pair. A Sony Play Station 2: $300.

To some, such extravagant spending on the notoriously fickle young might seem outrageous. Why do some parents give in?

Buckling Under Pressure, Guilt

One factor is surely the sheer power of marketing through mass media. According to the group Adbusters, teenagers are exposed to an estimated 3,000 advertisements each day. Combine the ads with programming itself, like the fashion-, music- and skin-filled shows on MTV, and you've got a barrage of messages telling kids what they should own if they want to fit in.

"The pressures on parents today are enormous," says Tom Vogele, a single father of twin 18-year-old girls in Newport Beach, Calif. "I truly believe it is harder today to raise children without spoiling them, not because parents are less capable or lazy, but because so many forces are working against me."

Many working parents probably compensate by spending money on their kids, says Timothy Marshall, an associate professor of developmental psychology at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. For some, there is probably some guilt involved in not spending enough time at home.

But, adds Marshall, spending money is also often more convenient in our fast-paced society than going to baseball games or other activities.

"It's easier to say let's go out and spend some money, in terms of finding time in a busy schedule to spend with kids," Marshall said.

The Virtues of Budgeting, Saying No

For many families, of course, keeping up with their children's costly demands for designer clothing, CDs, and concert tickets is a financial impossibility. Even for those families who can afford such lavish spending, striking a compromise between spoiling the kids and denying them is tricky, but possible.

Teaching kids how to budget and save is key, Marshall says. Instead of just giving children the toys or clothing they desire, give them an allowance and show them how they can save up for whatever they want, he says.

And don't be afraid to just say no, Marshall adds. "We need to step up and tell kids where the boundaries are, that's part of our responsibility as parents," he said.

For Jon Sherry of Ortonville, Mich., saying no has worked in keeping his kids happy despite a career change that slashed his income by about a third.

His strategy has been to say "yes" to as many family activities as possible, including a "Friday Family Film Fest" of $1 rental videos and playing rounds of the card game euchre.

"My kids are truly happy when I spoil them with what they really want," Sherry says, "more time with me."