As parents, we all want to raise kids who are caring, compassionate and grounded, especially in today’s increasingly uncertain world. We just need the right tools.
On Feb. 1, more than 200 people joined Essex County Community Foundation for an engaging seminar with New York Times columnist Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled, a highly praised guide book full of practical advice for teaching kids about money, family values, gratitude and the concept of giving back.
The event was a joint partnership between ECCF’s NextGen Initiative and Shore Country Day School in Beverly, where the seminar took place in the school’s new state-of-the-art Trustey Family Theatre.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better partner for this event,” said ECCF’s Assistant Vice President for Philanthropy Carol Lavoie Schuster. “The goal of ECCF’s NextGen Initiative is to engage, educate and connect Essex County’s Millennial and Gen X philanthropic leaders so they have the tools they need to make a real impact in their communities, and Shore Country Day School is preparing the generation of leaders that will follow them.”
The crux of Lieber’s philosophy is that regardless of income level, no parent wants to raise a spoiled child. And by talking to kids openly and honestly about money, even at a very early age he says, parents can raise kids who have perspective and perseverance and who become modest and generous young adults that are financially wise beyond their years.
During the event, Lieber used funny and poignant personal stories and accounts from families of all income levels to illustrate the powerful impact that a frank dialogue about finances can have on a child’s ability to understand the world and his responsibility in it. He stressed that the simple act of answering kids’ questions about money (why don’t we have a summerhouse? why can’t we buy that? Are we rich?) helps to shatter the notion that money is a taboo subject.
Furthermore, he said that telling children it’s “none of their business,” may signal to them that we, as parents, are not the best source for answers, and may hinder them from talking to us about other difficult topics.
“Their curiosity is to be valued and honored by all of us,” says Lieber.
Allowances are a good teaching too to help reinforce important values, Lieber says. But he points out that an allowance doesn’t need to be tied to chores. “Kids should be doing way more chores anyway.”
But starting at the age 5 or 6, even a modest allowance can and should be divided up into three jars: spend, save and give. The jars help encourage kids to prioritize their values, learn the difference between wants and needs and sharing good fortune.
The give jar is one that is especially important to Lieber, who was raised in Chicago and lived a good life until his parents divorced and the family fell on hard financial times. He was forced to finish school on a scholarship provided by the school community, and the experience shaped his values on generosity, which Lieber is passing on to his two young daughters.
“The thing that really hit home with our (older) daughter is understanding her own family’s history of having been helped,” said Lieber. “Please tell your kids those stories. It will help put them in touch with their inner giver.”
Lieber’s stories and advice resonated with those in attendance.
“Ron prompted guests to initiate family discussions centered around values like gratitude, giving back and philanthropy,” said Jody Johnson, director of advancement at Shore Country Day School. “Parents and educators left inspired to incorporate this into daily life.”
“One of the interesting things I took away from tonight was the idea of a giving circle for a school,” said Liz Bradley, a NextGen committee member and mom to two daughters, ages 15 and 13. She was referring to the story Lieber told about students from a Jewish school in San Francisco who, in lieu of exchanging Bar and Bat Mitzvah gifts, used the money to start a giving circle that grew into a $40,000 fund.
“I think that’s a healthy way to get engaged,” she said.
Filing out of the theater, parents could be overheard discussing the various ways in which they would use Lieber’s advice within their own families.
“This was great!” Shore parent and NextGen committee member Weze Harrigan told Lieber as they talked after the event. “There are two things I can take home tonight and use right away.”
One of those things was the suggestion Lieber gave to allow each family member, kids included, to toast to something they are grateful for every night at dinner, a simple thing that, when practiced regularly, can establish a gratitude routine.
“We talk about many of these ideas through our NextGen Initiative,” said Lavoie Schuster. “It was really rewarding to see so many parents moved to make changes and additions to their family routines based on Ron’s work.”
For more information about Essex County Community Foundation’s NextGen Initiative, visit www.eccf.org/nextgen or contact Carol Lavoie Schuster at email@example.com or 978-777-8876. To learn more about Shore Country Day School, visit www.shoreschool.org or contact Jody Johnson at 978-402-3816.
Photo by Kevin Harkins of Harkins Photography.