One of the most common money saving tips I see is for people to not take their children foodshopping. The logic is that kids will want to buy excessive luxuries and will force their parents to stray from the shopping list and family budget. Often, experts will refer to studies on marketing towards kids, pointing out how natural it is for children to be taken in by such marketing and how hazardous it can be on your wallet.
I respectfully disagree. No, I don’t disagree about the potential dangers of marketing towards children, nor do I disagree to the danger it can pose to the family budget. I disagree with the idea that parents should have to hide their children from marketing instead of teaching their children to deal with it.
Teaching your children to deal with impulses is one of the fundamental roles of a parent. As children grow up, they will be bombarded with advertisements for clothes, electronics, even cars and homes, and if they do not know how to deal with this sort of marketing, God help them.
I grew up with a single mother who usually worked at least 2 jobs. Between cleaning the house, cooking for Shabbat, studying with me and my sister for every single test until junior high, and doing everything else that being a single mother entails, I am sure that foodshopping was not on top of my mom’s list. But my mom did not leave me home because she wanted to pinch a few more pennies. My mom took me and my sister shopping with her to spend time together and do something as a family. We talked in the car, saved some time by dividing the work (“you get the cucumbers and tomatoes; I’ll get the fruit”) and enjoyed spending time in each other’s company.
“But Jon,” you’ll politely interrupt, “what do I do if my kid throws a hissy fit in the middle of the store?”
You discipline him. You teach that child that we are not animals and are not meant to run on impulse. You teach him that such behavior is unacceptable. And you teach your child to deal with impulses before your child falls into massive debt while leading a superficial life because he was never taught to say “no.”
This does not mean that my mom did not spoil me a bit when we went out. Since some of the foodshopping had to be done in Monsey we would often get pizza for dinner (no Kosher pizza in my home town of New City). Sometimes I would get a comic book as well. While foodshopping, my mom would let me choose my own cereal (which is why I still enjoy buying cereal to this day) and would occasionally let me get other stuff as well. But by no means did she let me get every single item I wanted. My mom knew her limits and taught me to stay within them.
My wife told me that she had a very similar story growing up. Her father would take her and her two siblings foodshopping and would tell them that they could each get one candy each, no more. They learned to enjoy what they got and learned to deal with marketing in a responsible way.
In short, parents who do not teach their children to deal with temptation are doing them a tremendous disservice. And as hard as it is, teaching a child to skip on a shiny candy is much simpler than teaching a spoiled teenager that he or she does not need the newest mp4 device. But I guess that is what real parenting is all about.