My world has been rocked to its core by one little story from the 6th grade hall at my sons’ middle school. Michael’s locker is next to a boy who we will call “Jack.” Jack is good friends with another boy who we will call, “Matt”. Yesterday at school, Michael watched Jack pull $300 out of his backpack and hand this money to his friend Matt so he could buy an Apple watch. Michael was close enough to see the bills, “a $100 bill and four $50s” he tells me. Keep in mind, these are 6th graders. They are 11 and 12 years old. Bells and sirens are going off in my head. Oh My God, I think. Michael’s locker is next to a drug dealer! Who else would have that kind of money? I warn Michael that this is not normal, that kind of money should not be changing hands at school.
BUT – As we talk more about the kids, the situation and we include his brother, I find out that this is not so unusual at their school. Most of their friends have the latest iPhone (the $700 one I got for Christmas from my husband and told him he spent WAY too much on), many of the boys they hang out with have Apple watches, the most expensive name brand shoes, several fit bits, iPads, iPad minis and more. We’re not talking a few. Most of the kids they hangout with have ALL of these things. They go on to tell me about kids bringing cash to school to buy expensive shoes from a friend who has 4 pair. They recall the time when a couple of kids bought “Dippin’ Dots” for their entire lunch table. Of course the Dippin’ Dots (an ice cream like treat mainly sold at sporting events) actually cost more than the school lunch. The stories continue, and continue…I am shocked.
I spent $350 on each child for Christmas this year and felt completely out of control. As a matter of fact, I considered taking about half of the presents back because I felt I was setting a bad precedent and not keeping our focus on the reasons we celebrate the season. And now, some 12 year old is GIVING his buddy $300 for a fancy watch. I ask Michael if there is anyone he knows that he would give that amount of money to for anything. He thinks for a minute. He wonders if it is a trick question. If he answers no is he selfish? If he says his family, would he be sincere? After a few moments of reflection, he gives me an honest answer. “No Mom, if I had $300 I’d be keeping it for myself not giving it to a buddy.” I change the amount to $20…nope, still no reason he can think of to give his hard earned cash to a friend for something like shoes, or a shirt or a watch. I can only imagine that this kid just gave his friend all his birthday and Christmas cash. But honestly, I don’t know as I consider all the stories I’ve just been told.
Many of the characters in the story live in our neighborhood, not the new McMansions of “Richwoods” located right next to the school. They look just like my boys, wear the same clothes, play in the same sports associations, laugh at the same disgusting jokes. I don’t notice a crazy number of expensive cars in the parking lot or the drop off line. But no mater how much they tell me that this is commonplace, I still feel something is very wrong with this picture. Since when $300 is easy for a 12 year-old to let go of, how much would be too much?
The school has taught them how to balance a checkbook, but has their family taught them the value of their earned dollar? Is this boy buying friendship or is this really not a big deal? If this is the norm, we are always going to spend more than we make. These kids will value the brand name shoe over the cash in their savings account. They will value the newest watch (which is only new until the next version comes out in 6 months) over a good, solid timepiece. They talk about everything they have and do like it is a competition. I went to school this week to check on Michael and a boy came over to tell me he had been invited to join a AAA baseball team. Of course, I responded “Great!” knowing that he had no idea what that even meant, but he said it because he thought it meant something to me. The race to have more, be better, be more is never ending. I want out!
Our family lives by rules that do not seem valued today. We DO still end up spending what we make, but even with that, we live a pretty modest life. Many who know me would laugh at the word modest with reference to my lifestyle. I have a nice home, a new car, if we NEED something, I have no worries about purchasing it. But we do not owe anyone anything. No car financing, no mortgage, no credit card debt, no school loans, the kid’s college funds are fully funded (supposedly) we have some retirement set aside….BUT, my kids do not have iPhones, apple watches or even their own computers really. I’m good with that!
BUT…how long with they be happy when surrounded by such excess packaged as normal? How long can I hold off the desire to have what their friends have? Here in the land of excess – probably not long.