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The Blurring of Need Versus Want

Julie Samrick
Kid Focused

The fiscal cliff has been averted for now, but it's only a matter of time before America faces more tough financial decisions.  This can be said about our own lives too.  Our wants versus what we really need to pay for has clouded our thinking, so much so that luxuries like big screen TVs are now seen as necessities for many Americans.  In the 1950s, the most wished for Christmas list items by 6- to 12-year-olds were Matchbox cars and Barbie dolls. 1980s children were all about Rubiks' Cubes and Cabbage Patch Kids.  Today? The most asked for Christmas list item by 6- to12-year-olds during this 2012 holiday season was an iPad; the MacBook computer came in a close second.  And the older kids get, the pricier the wants become. For every parent of a teen I talked to who said their kid asked for modest things this Christmas, nine said that their teen wanted cash to save for (or flat out directly asked for) items in at least the three-digit price range.

Why not?  Young people are barraged with the message that material goods buy happiness now more than ever.  The fleeting financial bubble we built around ourselves earlier this new century started the self-justified indulgences of many and then the explosion of so many convenient technological gadgets in just the past four years alone have only sped along the "I want it now" syndrome.  Kids growing up today don't know any different. Let's help them put things in perspective.

As my 15-year-old niece informed me at Christmas, not having a smartphone pretty much means a less convenient, less connected, and less than full life, and that she is miserably the "only one at her school who doesn't have an iPhone."  I, on the other hand, had to applaud my sister for standing her ground.

Children follow the trends of celebrities.  Kim Kardashian's teen sisters, who are launching their own fashion line at just 15 and 17 years old (an anomaly years ago - now commonplace), tweeted to their adoring young fans this past week about their many pairs of $1,000 luxury shoes.  It's no wonder that a recent University Research study cites a spike in specialty or designer stores for 12- to 20-year-olds in the past 10 years. 
It shouldn't be too shocking that a new online industry of "arrangement sites" is cropping up at college campuses nationwide. At least half a million young people, mainly young women, are selling themselves for sex.  They are labeled "sugar babies" in the industry and are connected to older, wealthy "sugar daddies" (of which there are nearly two million registered today, and the industry is booming since first launching in 2008).

These young people say the arrangement helps them live the lifestyles they feel they deserve - enjoying lavish trips, buying fancy clothes, even having plastic surgery.  Another large portion claims to be victims, arguing that they sell themselves out because it is necessary to pay for the steep cost of college today.  Whatever happened to getting up early and waiting tables at the weekend breakfast shift to work through college? These 18- to 24-year-olds say that the high rate of tuition coupled with parents who are equally cash-strapped are the reasons they have no other choice than to sell their bodies.  It seems as though there were never a tougher time to be young than today.
Struggling through some lean years while starting out in life has been an inevitable part of young peoples' lives for generations just as wearing hand-me-downs or not getting everything we want for Christmas has been a part of coming of age too.  Let's dump this notion that anyone who can't get what they want or must wait a little longer to get it is a victim of a bad economy or otherwise.

Julie Samrick is a stay-at-home mom of four young kids and the founder of Kid Focused, a site devoted to children and family issues.  Subscribe to the free Kid Focused newsletter delivered weekly to your inbox and connect with us on Facebook too.  Permission granted for use on

Tags: Internet-Media, Kids, Parenting, Technology, Teens
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