Teaching Money Skills by Losing at Social Media

Teaching Money Skills by Losing at Social Media

We all know that actions speak louder than words.

We also know (all too well these days) that a picture tells a thousand words. 

So the question remains: in the rock-paper-scissors game of words, pictures, and actions, which wins? It depends on who you ask. 

If parenting and money were a Venn Diagram, Instagram would likely be among the occupants of the overlapping middle. The way we talk to our kids about spending means little in light of how we act. And how we take action is increasingly tied to what we perceive as valuable. In other words, what we “like.” Moms and dads are as guilty as any other modern consumer of living in the era of the image—perhaps more.

It’s time to lose touch with the Joneses.

A jaw-dropping article in the New York Times this week reported on the growing business of sleepover kits. Kits? Yes, kits. No longer is a living room floor and a forty-cent bag of microwaved popcorn sufficient for celebrating a child’s 8th birthday. Culture has decided that colorful tents are a must; photo ops for parents, the key to a good time. 

Who are we doing this for? Certainly not our kids. If you were to make a list of dreams you have for your children, what would be among them? If you’re like most of us, some paraphrase of “financial freedom,” “financial independence,” or “success” would make your top ten. Of that much, most American parents agree.

Now, what are we doing to make that happen? A glance at Instagram reveals an approach that is destined to fail. If pictures tell a thousand words, the snapshots of our parenting lives display anything but wise money management. Among the thousand words we’re preaching to our kids: 

Keep up with the Joneses at all costs.

If you haven’t made other people jealous, you’re not winning.

People will like you if you have expensive things.

Appearances are all that matter.

To forge memories, forget the competition.

The lessons we’re teaching our kids about money are being heard loud and clear. They’re just not the ones we think we’re teaching. Before you pull out your credit card to make your daughter’s “dream birthday” happen, consider this question: what are your fondest memories from childhood? What moments are engrained in the pages of your life? Chances are, they involve laughter, security, and love. Not on the list? An insecure parent yelling at you to smile while posing naturally for the camera.  

There is good to be found in social media. In some ways, we’re more connected than before. We have access to ideas, connection with distant relatives, and records of our lives to review and enjoy.

But we’re also more away of how we truly are our own worst enemy. We see the “blissful” lives of others and take flippant action, hurting the deeper goals we hold. Among them: to raise kids who know who they are and that no transaction can truly make them happy.

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