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Children And Money

( Originally Published 1916 )

IN his Children's Story-Sermons, the Rev. Dr. Hugh T. Kerr tells the following story:

" One morning when Bradley came down to breakfast, he put on his mother's plate a little piece of paper neatly folded. His mother opened it. She could hardly believe it, but this is what Bradley had written :

Mother owes Bradley

For running errands $.25
For being good .10
For taking music lessons .15
Extras .05
Total $.55

" His mother smiled, but did not say anything, and when lunch time came she placed the bill on Bradley's plate with fifty-five cents. Bradley's eyes fairly danced when he saw the money and thought his business ability had been quickly rewarded, but with the money there was another little bill, which read like this :

Bradley owes mother

For being good $000
For nursing him through his long illness with scarlet fever 00
For clothes, shoes, gloves, and playthings 00
For all his meals and his beautiful room 00
Total that Bradley owes mother.. $0.00

"Tears came into Bradley's eyes, and he put his arms around his mother's neck, put his little hand with the fifty-five cents in hers, and said, ` Take all the money back, mamma, and let me love you and do things for you.' ,,

The homes of this country are full of Bradleys who know nothing of rights and duties as related to money. And how should they know, never having learned? Among the children of the poor there usually develops rather early in life a keen appreciation of the value of money. Whatever money there is is quickly spent, and comes to represent pretty definitely the necessities and the luxuries of life. A nickel means a loaf of bread and a penny means a stick of candy. Money is hard to get and good to have ; and without it we have privation and misery. On the other hand, in the homes of the well-to-do and in the country, where comparatively little cash is handled, the opportunities to become acquainted with the sources and properties of money are comparatively narrow. Here people somehow have what they need, and no special effort or hardship is associated with getting these things. What is wanted is " ordered," and the children know nothing about the cost. Whatever money they may wish for the trifles that they buy themselves can usually be had for the asking. When Jessica's mother declared that she really could not have the money for a large doll that had caught the child's fancy, she was re-minded simply that she might get the money at the bank.

Money plays so important a role in modern life, that we are apt to take it for granted without thinking especially of teaching children what they should under-stand of the matter. Children should learn these things definitely and practically, beginning as soon as they are old enough to appreciate relative values. A child can begin by buying things for the household when he is able to distinguish the coins and count up the amounts. The age for this will, of course, vary with different children. It is, however, only through experience in buying that a person can ever attain to judgment in buying. The sense of values comes from familiarity with many values in terms of a common de-nominator. The methods by which people come to be possessed of money, and the relation of service to payment, should enter the child's experience as soon as he can understand these things.

An eight-year-old boy, tired after the strenuous exertions of the day, was disinclined to put away the toys and blocks. But there was no compromise; mother insisted and the task was soon accomplished. He came back to mother and said " Now they're all put away, Mother. Give me a nickel."

"A nickel? " asked the mother, not perceiving the relevancy of the last remark. " Why should I give you a nickel? "

"For putting away those things; that's work; 'I don't want to be a slave," came the answer.

This suggested a possible misunderstanding, and mother asked rather than declared, " You don't know what a slave is, Clarence ! "

" Oh, yes, I do," persisted the boy. " A slave is like the colored people in the South who used to be made to work without getting paid."

That was near enough to the truth for the immediate purpose and Clarence's mother had to stop fencing. She closed right in. People get paid for doing work for others, she explained, only where they cannot get any other return for their service. But people do not get paid for doing their duty. We all have to do things for each other; else we could not get along together. Indeed, we could not get along at all, for children are quite helpless at first, and if things were not done for them they would soon perish. Clarence understood that. He had seen the kittens dependent upon the mother cat for food. He shuddered at the thought of baby sister being left to her own resources. And parents do not expect pay for what they do ; there is no one to pay them and they are not working for pay. They love their children and so they do all they can for them. But they do expect children to do their several duties, for which there is no pay. They get their compensation in other ways; not in money.

The explanation was entirely satisfactory to Clarence, except at one point. He did not see how he was going to get any money, if not in payment for the things he could do—and he had already discovered that he needed money. When a child reaches the point at which he has the germ of appreciation for money, he certainly should have an opportunity to get it, if that can possibly be arranged. And if the family has the means, there are two ways in which this can be arranged.

A child may be given a small regular allowance for his own use. Through this he may learn the joy of immediate indulgence of trifling whims ; or he may learn to expend his resources with discrimination; or he may learn the advantages of deferring expenditure for more favorable purchasing. The child's claim to such an allowance can be justified to his mind on exactly the same ground as his claim to food and clothing and other material and immaterial wealth shared in the home. He gets these things not as a reward of merit, but through his status as a dependent member of a household.

For the reason that the allowance is a part of the routine income of the child, by virtue of his membership in the home community, it should never be used as an instrument of " discipline." If the allowance can be justified at all, it should be increased only in recognition of larger needs, and it should be diminished only when retrenchment is necessary for the family as a whole, or when changing conditions indicate reduced needs for the child. Thus, older children may legitimately expect to receive larger allowances than the younger ones. And, on the other hand, if living in the country part of the year reduces the occasions for spending money, it may be proper to cut the allowance down. Or this may be the opportunity for learning the satisfaction of putting some-thing aside.

The regular receipt of the allowance may be made contingent upon a child's maintaining a satisfactory level of conduct, or on his manifesting a spirit. of cooperation in the home. But this arrangement must not permit us to make specific misconduct an occasion for deducting from the allowance. When Agnes failed to return from a visit to a friend at a sufficiently early hour, her mother said nothing; but at the end of the week she took off ten cents from the allowance. In this the mother was entirely in the wrong, for in the first place the money allowance of the child should be on exactly the same basis as the other privileges which he enjoys as a member of the family, and not be singled out as a club for penalizing delinquencies. In the second place, by using it in this way the mother at once reduces the responsibilities of the child to a cash basis. Agnes can calculate next time whether staying out later is worth the ten cents that it costs. This attitude also opens up the whole field of the child's conduct to petty bickerings and bargainings about the number of cents to be paid for each " good " deed, or the number of cents to be deducted for each " bad" deed.

In addition to an allowance, children should have opportunities to earn extra amounts of money. It is the money earned that gives them the necessary inner experience without which one is never able to translate money values into terms of effort and exertion and sacrifice. Money that comes without effort may teach the child to spend wisely, or to save; but it can never teach him the human cost of the things that he uses from day to day. It is perhaps at this point more than anywhere else that the children of the well-to-do fail to become acquainted with the life problems of the mass of the people. They come to feel the value of money in terms of what it can buy, but not in terms of what it costs.

In many a household it becomes necessary for a number of the daily tasks to be performed by the children. If these tasks are looked upon as duties, if they represent definitely the children's share of the upkeep of the establishment, they should not be paid for. Nevertheless, it would be proper to agree upon a scale of payment for doing many of the necessary chores. But in that case, the child should have the option of not doing the assigned work when he feels that it is not worth his while. Otherwise the payment for work is merely a pretext for compelling the child to do work. At the same time, the child should not be free to perform his tasks some days, and leave them out at will. If he makes up his mind that he can use his time to better advantage, he may abandon the arrangement entirely, but he must not use the opportunity to earn money as a convenience entirely detached from the responsibility of regularity or uniformity.

Many parents see in the plan of paying children for work, the danger that whenever a child is asked to do something, he may make it the occasion for exacting payment. This danger is more apparent than real. On the contrary, should such occasions arise, they should be utilized as the most favorable opportunities for explaining to the children that there are some things for which we pay, and others which we do for each other without getting any pay. Of course, parents should be clear in their own minds as to what their standards are in these matters.

The amounts paid to a child can not, of course, be accurately gauged to the value of his services. But they should not be excessive, for then one of the chief advantages of working for pay would be entirely lost. On the other hand, if the pay is too low, the child will soon find it out, and his mind will dream, of the riches he could accumulate if he only quit school and went to work as errand boy in some store or office !

For many people ideas of financial relations and responsibilities are completely warped by the failure to experience during childhood a definite policy in these matters. Instead of haphazard giving, there should be a definite schedule of payments and allowances.

When children come to have money with which to buy things for themselves, we are usually tempted not only to guide them, but to regulate them. Now while guidance is a good thing, too much regulation is likely to defeat its own ends. It is so easy to spend money foolishly; and we wish to save the children from folly. But it is only by spending money both foolishly and wisely that the child can ever learn to know the difference. It is only by having experience with both kinds of spending that he can come to choose intelligently. It is more important, in his early years, to teach the child how to spend his money than to make sure that he has spent it well. He will have more to spend later on, and the lessons will be worth more than the advantage of the early protection against unwise purchases. Caution and advice are to be given, of course; but like many other good things, they should be given in moderation.

Even in the matter of learning to save, it is better to begin by spending. By spending trifling amounts as fast as they are obtained, children come to realize the limitations of a penny or two. By occasionally omitting an expenditure and thus acquiring the power to purchase more satisfying objects, the child may acquire sufficient ability to project himself into the future for the purpose of saving for more and more valuable things. There is no virtue in saving that comes from putting the pennies in the bank through force of a habit formed under the compulsion of penalties imposed arbitrarily from without. The child should learn to save through the experience of advantage gained by making sacrifices in the present for a prospective return in the future.

In households that do not manifest through their activities and conversation the methods by which the family income is obtained, children should be explicitly informed on the subject. It is not only embarrassing to the child to display his ignorance when comparing notes with other children, but it is a necessary part of his understanding of the world to know just how people obtain the precious tokens by means of which they secure all their necessities and extras.

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