How Wealthy Parents Are Cheating Their Kids

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My adult kids.

Did you work part-time when you were in high school? We all did when I was growing up. My brother bagged groceries at Safeway. I worked after school and summers in my dad’s dental office. My friends picked strawberries, worked for their family businesses or at fast food places. We all worked.

Now, in contrast, how many of your children’s friends have jobs — especially if they come from families who aren’t worried about money? In an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Tim Grant wrote about the fact kids aren’t working because of sports, SAT prep classes, homework and other activities and how it’s affecting kids entering adulthood.

From helicopters to bulldozers, wealthy parents clear their children’s path

Many of the high net worth clients that Pittsburgh wealth manager Matt Helfrich has worked with over the years can trace their strong work ethics back to summer jobs and after school work they did in high school and college.

Yet the opposite may be true for their own children.

Mr. Helfrich said that over the last decade of advising rich clients on their financial affairs, he has come to recognize a definite trend: their school-age children don’t work. 

“More and more, we are seeing kids not doing high school jobs,” said Mr. Helfrich, president of Bridgeville-based Waldron Private Wealth, which manages $2.4 billion in assets for 220 clients.

Instead of punching a time clock in their free time, he said most — if not all — of his clients’ children are preoccupied with sports, test preparation, volunteer assignments or high school study abroad programs.

Not that those activities don’t have merit. 

But they don’t provide young people with life lessons about the value of a dollar or skills that come with budgeting their own hard-earned money. Mr. Helfrich said he believes when children don’t take any responsibility for their own financial outcomes, it gives way to a phenomenon called the “bulldozer parent.”

“Bulldozer parents flatten all obstacles in their child’s way,” he said, explaining that bulldozer parents keep their wallets ready to foot the bill for major purchases like college, cars and housing so that their children need not worry.

By directing these bills away from their children, parents are robbing them of the opportunity to learn about budgeting, making financial choices and building their own credit.

“We’ve had adult children  of our clients try to get a mortgage or even a credit card, and they can’t get one because they’ve never had credit in their name before,” Mr. Helfrich said.

I am proud to say my kids worked in school. My son tutored, he worked as a swim coach and he was paid to design and maintain a website. In middle school, he was an assistant lifeguard and would be sweeping the pool or washing down the deck. My daughter was swimming all the time and didn’t have time for work outside of coaching and swim clinics. But her swimming turned into a job that paid for her college education and she now has a career in the swim industry.

In college, my son worked retail, maybe more hours than he should have. My daughter worked as a lifeguard, swim coach and swim camp counselor. I never even thought it was odd that they would work while at school. After all, that’s what we all did back in the day. I would find it strange if they weren’t working.

“About once or twice a year I will meet with a family who has the issue of an adult child who has become ‘infantilized,’” he said. “And over two decades, that’s a lot.”

“This approach to parenting, at best, fosters learned helplessness,” he said. “Typically, it fosters entitlement. And at worse, the child becomes so dysfunctional that they depend on and drain everyone they know.

“They try to turn everybody into their parents and expect everyone to behave like that. That’s not life.”

In worst-case scenarios, Mr. Chaney said he has seen children grow up with parents doting on them, then when the parents died, the child’s life spiraled out of control to the point of draining their trust fund.

The college years, he said, can be a defining period. Children from wealthy families often don’t need to work and get a monthly stipend.

The article goes on to give good advice to parents on how to help them build credit, make financial decisions and learn budgeting. You can read the parent tips and more of the article here.

What is your experience with kids working in high school and college?

When Is it Okay to Do Too Much for Your Kids?

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When they were young and needed me.

The sad truth is that my kids don’t need me as much as they used to. My days are no longer spent driving to school and the pool, volunteering in the classroom, packing lunches or helping out on the swim team.

I used to do way too much for my kids. All the time. I drove forgotten homework to school, suits to the pool and all the little things to totally incapacitate my children’s development to grown-up adults.

So, when my daughter called and said she got an email and her classes were going to be dropped on Friday—if tuition wasn’t paid—I didn’t exactly jump to take care of it. I’ve learned from my prior mistakes and write parents tips on how I wished I’d have parented for SwimSwam.com.

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This spring at Open Water Nats. Photo thanks to Ref Paul.

Next, she begged me to call the school. I held firm that she should handle it by herself.

She asked me why I hadn’t paid tuition? That one stopped me. We don’t pay tuition. She earns it through a swim scholarship and she must certainly be aware of that fact. I guess she was really worried and upset. She is in her major and excited about her classes.

I assured her there wasn’t anything to worry about. The financial aid office was probably processing scholarships and hadn’t gotten to hers yet. She’s had lifelong experience at being a W and at the end of the alphabet, after all. Her classes were not in danger of being dropped. Still, she was concerned and wanted me to take care of everything.

I finally broke down and called. While I sat on hold for 30 plus minutes and got transferred around from office to office, I wondered why I was doing it at all? The times I’m asked by my son or daughter to help them are few and far between. I’m thankful for that. So, when she did ask for my help, I decided to go against my better judgment and experienced “parenthoodness” and pampered her.

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Now they don’t need me so much….

In the end, there are FERPA things and I couldn’t help her anyway. What’s FERPA you ask? Once your child is in college and you want to make calls, or check out their grades, etc. you’ll learn that you don’t have any rights to do that—unless your child fills out a form and gives you those rights.

“The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.” http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html

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What used to be my typical day–drive to school, pool and piano.

So, a good thing to think about is that if you’re doing everything for your child and they leave for college and need your help—you just might not be able to help them.

When do you think it’s okay to do too much for your children? How do you overdo it in the parenting arena?

Not Quite Ready for Prime Time — Why Kids Aren’t Ready for College

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My son left for college four years ago. Looking back on his freshman year, he said that he was totally unprepared.

In my opinion, his freshman year was a failure because of extenuating circumstances. A crazy, drug-induced roommate. A fall off his bike and the need to come home for reconstructive surgery on his hand. Those two things could mess up anyone’s freshman year. But, he said he wasn’t ready to take care of all the parts of his life and study, too.

I wrote about skills our kids need to learn before they leave for college here in the “Top Ten Things Kid Need to Learn Before College.” I learned from my son, the simple things that I thought my kids knew, but did not. I took for granted that he could buy things at the store, or hang onto his wallet. Or that he’d know what to do if he lost his wallet.

Palm Springs Aquatic Center where my kids spent their youth.The second time around — with my second child — I tried to make sure she was better prepared. I was talking with a few swim moms yesterday. Part of the problem is us. The sheer volume of hours our swimmers spend at the pool topped with homework gives us an excuse to treat them like kings or queens. We do everything for them, and they don’t learn how to take care of themselves. We are crippling their growth and development and we are guaranteeing that their first year of college will be harder than it needs to be.

My son lived in a house with seven guys his sophomore and junior years of college. He said they were all brilliant, gifted students — and the house was a mess — and the bills went unpaid.

dishchart_lrgI asked, “Were they all prima donna’s?”

He answered, “Pretty much. Because they were ‘gifted’ in school, their mothers did everything for them all the time. Its was like, ‘you need to study to get As in your seven AP classes. Let me take care of this for you.’ ”

Before you jump in and strip the bed and wash the sheets — just stop. Let your child do it. Yes, their schedules are crazy. But, yours is too. Let them do more for themselves.

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I spent my daughter’s senior year driving her lunch to school. She’d text me for Chipotle, pizza, or whatever — and I’d stop everything I was doing — buy her lunch and deliver it. I’ll admit it, I enjoyed it and knew my days as a hovercraft were numbered.

Your child’s freshman year of college will be an adjustment year. Do whatever you can to prepare your kids to be successfully independent.

Doing less for them is doing more.