Children's Needs & Wants
People can live within a budget that allows them to manage, but does not allow for major luxuries. Basic needs such as housing, clothing, food and school tuition can be covered, but it is a challenge when it comes to spending for comfort, leisure and enjoyment.
Mature and responsible adults understand this, and while frustrating, it can be tolerated. Often, though, children can find it difficult to constantly be told 'no' even in homes where they are educated about needs and wants.
Children and teenagers must have the security of knowing that their parents will provide for all of their needs. The question is, how to determine what our needs and wants are? Often, the barometer of a child’s needs is not necessarily what parents consider needs, but what the child’s social environment has established as needs.
Needs are very subjective. In every community, there are different standards as to what children “need.” Children, especially teenagers, crave fitting in with their peers. If all or most of a child’s peers have a particular item, then that child might have a need for that item as well, even if the parents don’t consider it at all necessary.
Obviously, one does not have to allow their children to be swept along with every fad, especially those that are not in keeping with their values. But if a child has a legitimate need, it is preferable to find a way to supply that need rather than tell the child, “We can’t afford it.” If money is tight, then parents have to use some creativity in finding inexpensive, alternative ways to provide for their children’s needs — for example, learning to sew clothes, or buying clothes at thrift shops.
It is not a good idea to make children earn money to pay for things they really need — even if the need is a subjective one. It is, however, legitimate to suggest that older children pay for, or at least chip in for, things they want.
What about the common scenario where a child claims that 'everyone has one.' Does that automatically qualify as a need? First, it is important to find out if 'everyone' really means everyone. If, indeed, everyone (or just about everyone) has that particular item, then it is a need, and one might well consider buying that item. If 'everyone' means 20-30% of the class, however, then it is a want, not a need.
That is where chinuch comes in: It is up to the parent to decide if this situation calls for teaching budgetary restraint, allowing the child to use his or her own money, or indulging the child.
The next hurdle is to work out how to afford all those legitimate needs. Once parents are tuned in to their children’s individual needs, it will become possible to save money in ways that might not previously have been considered. In the process of identifying needs, it will become apparent that some of the things they considered needs were not really needs at all. For example, the child who needs the digital camera might suddenly realise that last year's school stationery is perfectly adequate.
The way to educate children not to ascribe importance to material acquisition is by ensuring that material possessions do not become a focus, by virtue of either their presence or their absence.
When children absorb a value system in which spiritual achievements are paramount, they are far less likely to feel deprived, even if their friends have more than they do. As important as it is to supply children’s material needs, it is even more important to provide them with things money cannot buy: attention, love, discipline and security.
Finding the right balance between exercising fiscal restraint and providing adequately for children can be challenging. For every family, the balance is different — and within every family, the balance shifts as the family dynamics change.