More Than Money
Issue #39

Money and Children

Table of Contents

“For the Children, For Ourselves”

By Pamela Gerloff

When I was in college I spent a semester studying in France, in the city of Rennes in Brittany. It became my routine that every Sunday morning, when traffic was practically nil, I would ride my bicycle to the center of town. It was a particularly pleasing ride for me because a portion of it was on a downward incline. At a certain point in the trip, all I had to do was stop pedaling and I would sail down several long city blocks until I came to a flat section of the street. I never traveled too fast because it wasn't really much of a hill; it was just smooth . Happy. Freeing.

The thing of it was, though, that in order to do that, I would occasionally have to run a red light. This sounds worse than it seemed, I suppose. After all, I was on a bicycle, not in an automobile, and bicycles didn't necessarily seem to abide by the rules of the road. And every time I approached an intersection, I would look very carefully to be sure no one was coming from either direction. And there was zero traffic. Zero.

Except for one day.

One day, as I approached the red light at the end of the incline, pulling to a stop after a smooth and exhilarating ride through several other lights, a car pulled up from behind me. The driver, an elderly gentleman sporting a classic blue French beret, wagged his finger at me and called out sternly, "Et quand vous serez ecrasée..." Translation: "And when you get run over..." What then? was his implication, which came through loud and clear as my eyes met the innocent faces of the three children riding with him. They peered through the windows, attentively observing my potentially dangerous transgression.

Instantly, I was filled with pangs of guilt, understanding what most adults eventually come to learn: children copy our actions, not our words. They learn our values by observing and absorbing the ones we exhibit. I was teaching these children values that could bring them harm-even get them killed-if they were to follow my example. It is not as though I hadn't been aware of this previously. But in that moment, the knowledge became ingrained me. Suddenly I understood that in every moment I am making choices that may have consequences for children.

Probably most of us have had the experience of seeing or hearing children adopt the language or behavior of an adult they have observed-and of recognizing that it doesn't always look becoming on them. Sometimes, to be sure, it's cute; but sometimes, when we see what a behavior looks like when children are wearing it, we realize with new awareness that it isn't very healthy-either for them or for our society.

I think this is beginning to happen on a wide scale. Children are taking on the behavior of adults, at younger and younger ages. And many adults are noticing that it isn't always pretty. It isn't always safe. And it doesn't always bring the children happiness. It doesn't help them live a life of value.

When it comes to money, the culture of children has taken on a kind of grotesque exaggeration of the choices we adults are making as a society. Children are bombarded with pressures to buy, buy, buy; to get the latest and the coolest; to seek material and monetary riches, not build a life of contribution and value. They are told that they must have and be the best or they are worthless.

The effects on children, as a whole, have been devastating. In the United States, anxiety, depression, and suicide are increasing, and occurring in children at younger and younger ages. Drugs to control such conditions are now prescribed for children as young as preschool. Overscheduled, highly pressured children are stressed out, irritable, and exhausted, reporting that the thing they most want that money can't buy is time just to be a kid. [ See p. 10, " What Really Matters? Letting Kids Be Kids ," An Interview with Betsy Taylor. ] In less economically developed countries, children are being orphaned at an alarming rate, and thousands die daily of hunger and treatable diseases, when the economic choices of more developed countries could easily help alleviate those problems.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. Not everyone is living by the standard cultural playbook. Some are choosing carefully, thoughtfully, and respectfully, as they examine their own values and the legacy they want to leave to children-and not just their own families' children, but everyone's. They are creating what the acclaimed children's singer Raffi calls "a child-honoring society." [ See p. 6, " Turn this World Around: Creating a Child-Honoring Society ," An Interview with Raffi Cavoukian. ]

The individuals on these pages are some of those people. As you read their reflections, take what is meaningful to you; and as you apply their wisdom in your own life, may you be reminded of this happy little secret: When we honor children, we become more like them, in their purest form. So our own journey actually becomes lighter, not heavier, and we ourselves become more whole. Of course, none of us are perfect and all of us will make mistakes. But the reward of aiming high for the children is that we get to touch our own greatness. As the Chinese philosopher Mengzi said in 400 B.C., "Great is the human who has not lost his childlike heart."

Editorial Policy: The views expressed in More Than Money Journal are not necessarily those of More Than Money. We encourage and support respectful dialogue among people of diverse viewpoints. In each journal issue, we provide a range of perspectives on a topic to stimulate reflection, conversation, and inspired action.

Pamela Gerloff, Ed.D., is the editor of More Than Money Journal . Her life passions have focused on learning, growth, and change, with a special interest in children. Her professional experience includes working as an editor for Highlights for Children magazine, a French and English teacher, and a consultant for individual and organizational change. She holds a doctorate in human development from Harvard University.

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