It’s no secret that raising kids is expensive, a reality that parents are overwhelmed with even before their first child is born. New parents are bombarded with the immediate expenses of furniture to set up the nursery, clothing, diapers, strollers and an endless amount of baby gear. And it’s a given that as a child grows, so do the expenses: more food to fill that growing body (and more clothing to cover it); various classes, lessons and clubs and saving for the college fund. But beyond meeting those basic needs, there is another factor at play that increases a parent’s finances significantly: the nag factor.
This phenomenon, also known as “Pester Power,” is defined as “the tendency of children, who are bombarded with marketers’ messages, to unrelentingly request advertised items.” And the pestering has a powerful influence on parents’ buying habits.
In the U.S., there are about 20 million “tweens” or boys and girls ages 8 to 12, and according to MarketingSherpa, the buying power of the tween market is estimated at more than $260 billion annually. It’s the first demographic that takes the online world completely for granted. This age group spends more time on the Internet using their mobile devices, subjecting them to a wide array of marketing messages; and while they are also shopping online, between 65 to 70 percent of tween spending is from parental contributions.
“Tweens can nag relentlessly, in a lot of different ways,” said Teresa Grella-Hillebrand, director of Hofstra University’s Counseling and Mental Health Professions Clinic and a marriage and family therapist.
Parents give in to a child’s demands for video games, music, movies, books, videos/DVDs, food, clothing and other items partly out of social pressures and partly because they get tired of saying no.
“Parents get worn down and feel guilty, so they give in,” Grella-Hillebrand said. “Parents don’t want to feel that guilt and it’s also easier to avoid conflict.”
What’s particularly troublesome for parents is the fact that marketers are well aware of the spending power and influence of this age group and do extensive research to find ways to tap into the market—and squeeze family budgets even further.
“Marketing to tweens is not like marketing to any other segment,” said Doug Betensky, CEO of Upside Business Consultants in Roslyn. “Reaching them is the most important thing, as they do not read post cards, get direct mail like adults do and they are not out and about without their parents. Therefore, you are marketing not just to the tween, but also to the parents.”
As a result, marketers are quickly finding ways to advertise to them through mobile devices.
“The tweens must be reached on their own terms in the channels they use—therefore, technology, smartphones, gaming devices, etc.—all play a significant role,” said Betensky. “They are highly influenced by fashion, technology and whatever is ‘in’ and cool at the time.”
The mix of this stage of adolescence and the onslaught of targeted marketing means a lot of arguments—and a lot of spending for parents.
“The biggest mistake parents make is to say no when they really mean yes,” said Grella-Hillebrand. “Kids then learn that no doesn’t really mean no, and it just perpetuates the nagging.”
“In early adolescence, children are starting to assert themselves and figure out who they are as they navigate the world,” she said. “Part of who they are is defined by what they have at this age, as well as what their peers have.”
So, she said, parents have to juggle between what they can afford and what they value, as a family, in order to decide what to give in to and when to stand their ground. She said this can be particularly difficult in more affluent areas like Long Island where there are more social pressures, especially when both parents work and don’t always spend as much time as they would like to with their kids. But, she stresses that it is very important for parents to hold their ground, or the cycle will continue.
“Saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as a reflex is less productive for a family,” she said. “Instead of saying ‘no’ at the outset, say, ‘Let me think about that request’ and then have a conversation about it. If you agree to the request, explain why and tell them what you expect from them, as they are learning responsibility and responsibility goes with privilege.”
According to Grella-Hillebrand, who has three teenage daughters, part of the problem with tween nagging and consequent spending is that parenting today is different than it was two to three decades ago.
“Over the past 25 years, we’ve changed the way we look at parenting,” she said. “We value children more and put more focus on them; we want them to be nurtured, protected and we want to provide for them as best we can to help them grow. Then along with that we have the advances in technology and the price tags attached.”
She said there has been a cultural shift, especially in middle to upper-middle class areas, where there are more social pressures to provide everything a child might need to succeed—and when you add in the wants, the lines get blurry, making it easier to give in to the nagging.
“As parents, we need to be more thoughtful about our responses,” she said. “Think about your priorities and if you mean no, hold to it. Don’t be afraid to say no. But if you can’t hold the line, take some time and wait to respond.”
Alex Gallego of Gallego Financial Group of Raymond James in Oyster Bay said the best way to avoid financial stress is to focus on “forward planning” and to start early.
“You have to think about the end objective, which is raising a child to become emotionally and financially healthy,” Gallego said. “They have to understand the value of money, that it is not a limitless ATM machine and you have to teach responsibility.”
He said to start the process early, parents can open a savings account or an UTMA and include the child in what is transpiring. Another aspect he said is key is to set a contractual agreement with the child so that they know what to do every week in order to earn money.
“Chores should be religious, systematic and consistent,” he said.
According to Gallego, having a binding agreement teaches a child responsibility and accountability and they start to see the tie-in between working hard, meeting obligations and earning money; and they begin to feel good about themselves.
“It’s important to help develop a sense of self-worth,” he said. “And it’s not coming from exteriors, but by their own positive actions.”
Gallego, who has spent 20 years in the business of financial planning, also has three kids, ages 15, 16 and 18. He has helped keep them accountable for their earnings by use of contracts—the earliest signatures written with crayons—and also makes sure they have summer jobs every year. As a result, he said they have become healthy, well-adjusted children and there’s no stress when it comes to finances.
“It’s very important to hit all the paradigms of self-development,” said Gallego. “If we miss one,
we have a real spoiled child on our hands.”