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Family Finances

How Kids Trick Their Parents

They know how to get what they want. Here's how you can keep control for both your children's and your sake.

Editor's note: This article is adapted from the book, Raising Money Smart Kids. Buy a copy for even more great parenting advice.

If youngsters are tempted to consume conspicuously, indulging their wants as never before, advertising isn't totally to blame. Advertisers may be pulling children, but parents are pushing them simply by making so much money available and giving them so much leeway to spend it.


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At a conference I attended on marketing to kids, one highlight was a panel discussion with mothers and their children. Marketing professionals in the audience were interested in how to get the kids to pay attention to their products yet still get past Mom, who remains the gatekeeper.

As both a parent and an adviser to parents on how to resist sales pressure from their children, I found that my own loyalties were divided. When, for example, one woman complained that her son will eat only one kind of sandwich -- Louis Rich plain oven-roasted turkey on white bread -- and confessed that she no longer tries anything else, as a parent I had to agree it would be pointless to waste money on food that wouldn't be eaten.


But then one young man confided that his strategy for getting the things he wants is to "trick" his parents by promising to pay them back and hope they forget about the debt. I was tempted to stand up and say, "That's exactly why you should never advance your children money to buy something -- or if you do, at least hang on to the item until they come across with the cash."

The kids candidly revealed other tricks: "I beg," said one forthright youngster. "I tell her I'm not going to move till I get it," said another. "I go to my Daddy," confessed a third.

And the moms admitted that those tactics often work: "Older kids have a lot more influence because they're louder and in my face more," said one mother. "I can spend twice as much money because of what my daughter sees on TV," said another. "I've lost control," admitted a third.

The parents were surprisingly willing to give their children a say in spending decisions that ranged from vacations to home decor. ("I'm glad my daughter is out of her green phase," said one mom.) But not all the parents were pushovers, and they had their own strategies for negotiating with their kids: "When we disagree about a purchase, we have a cooling-off period and wait for a day." "I give them choices that I can live with." "I won't buy Lunchables when I can make the same food at home for less."


Marketers attending the conference were as fascinated as I was by the interaction between generations, and they peppered the panel with questions. "How do you decide which restaurants to eat at?" someone asked. "Mom makes us agree on one," answered one boy. "We rotate around," offered another youngster.

Most heartening to me were the results of an industry survey of what's on the minds of children ages 10 to 14. They were interested in making and saving money, but they also expressed old-fashioned concerns about family issues, such as wanting to get along better with their siblings and worrying abut the health of their grandparents. And Mom and Dad were still the biggest heroes in their children's eyes.

At the end of the session, I asked the "no-Lunchables" lady how she makes her rule stick. "We just don't buy them," she said. And are her kids willing to go along with that? "If you put your foot down, they are. You just can't do it all the time. You have to pick your battles."

GET THE BOOK: Raising Money Smart Kids