On Friday night after another great dinner at our local pizza place with two of my grandgirls, we went for our requisite fro yo. It’s what we do on sleepovers at “BeeBee and Big D’s” house: pizza and frozen yogurt. As we sat relishing each bite with a taste of topping, two girls came scooting by. They looked to be 9 years old-ish.
Stopping right in front of us sitting on the bench, the first girl turned and said to her friend, “How much did your most expensive jacket cost?”
With a totally puzzled expression, the second scooter-girl said, “I don’t know.” Her reply was laced with a tone of I have no idea what you are talking about.
The first girl pridefully shot back. “Mine was $200. It’s Gucci.” And they scooted on.
I honestly could not believe what I had heard. So, to a mom and her two kids who were sitting on the bench across from us, I asked, “Did I just hear what I think I just heard?”
“It’s the Palisades,” the mom replied.
Verbatim, that is what happened. It’s such a cliché that it is hard to believe. But it did. Pinky swear.
My seven-year-old granddaughter, having witnessed the whole scene, asked me what it had been about. And I explained that the girl was bragging about an jacket that cost a lot of money. I added that some people have the wrong idea not only about what is okay to say, but also about what matters, what is important and what is not. I stopped short of lecturing a 7 and a 4 year old about over-privilege and young children being spoiled by their parents, etc…
I haven’t stopped thinking about this scene. But I can’t believe it happened. As many times as I have given presentations and seminars on Affluenza: The Perils of Over Privilege or Gimme Gimme Gimme, or Reducing Spoilage in Children, I am still incredulous.
In reply to the mom who said “It’s the Palisades” I wanted to say, “No, it’s bad parenting.” But I didn’t. Instead, I sat, speechless.
I looked beyond the girls to see if there were a parent attached to the Gucci jacket girl. Sure enough, up she came, shouting to her daughter as she walked by in an overcooked-family-night-yogurt-with-the-kids outfit. I guess I wasn’t surprised. And yes, this comment may be totally unfair.
All children, boys and girls, go through developmental stages wherein they are trying to figure out who they are and how to be in their social worlds. Fitting in matters. Style becomes important. Attention to what you wear and how you appear are often parts of the growing up process. Recently, another of my granddaughter’s described her outfit to me by saying, “BeeBee, it’s my style.”
As the child experiments with style and tries on different personas, the parent’s job is to teach the lessons of time and place for dress, style, and taste. I have advised many a parent to allow her child to wear a (cringe worthy) midriff-bearing top at home.
But far more critical than teaching a child when she can and can’t wear something or behave in certain ways, is teaching that child a system of values—what really matters, what is important in life, what truly counts about people. It is emphatically not how much you spend on a jacket and whose label is sewn into the collar.
It certainly is a privilege to live in the Palisades. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t awaken and feel grateful for having lived here for 45 years. But it is not living in the Palisades that pushes children to the dark side. Just because you enjoy privilege does not mean your children will be void of values. Being wealthy does not mean your children will catch Affluenza. It is about parenting, deliberate parenting. And it is about modeling and living the values you want your child to have.
It’s not the Palisades. Somewhere along the line the Gucci-jacket-girl learned that the brand name and how much you spend on a item is what counts. Clearly, this lesson didn’t come from nowhere. A revisit is in order.