A fine guide on children's money is available again

Children and Money, A Parents' Guide, by Grace W. Weinstein. New York: New American Library. 231 pp. $8.95. One of the obligations of becoming a parent seems to be building new bookshelves. There are books on getting ready for the birth and on caring and feeding the newborn, coping with a toddler, handling the stress of school, and getting through adolescence.

Some space should be cleared, however, for this book. As soon as a child learns that a dime is much more interesting than a button, the issue of money seems to grow.

Ms. Weinstein, a mother of two who has written a book on money management for adults, and who writes a monthly column for Good Housekeeping magazine, has updated and reissued this book, which first came out a decade ago.

Since then, she notes, there have been changes in what constitutes the definition of a ``family''; there are more older parents who have more money to lavish on their offspring; and society seems to have moved away from the so-called anti-materialism attitudes of the 1960s and early '70s. Finally, in addition to the usual lessons about the value of a dollar, Weinstein adds, some parents are teaching their children about investments.

That is not such a drastic leap, she says, if proper lessons and perspectives about money begin early and if parents understand how children's views on money are formed. To this end, she begins the well-written book with some overall observations about the costs of raising children, Americans' disposition not to save, adult attitudes toward money, and how children respond to these attitudes more than to what parents say about the subject. If Mom buys a dress for her daughter, for instance, with the admonition ``Don't tell Daddy what it cost,'' the episode makes clear the parents' different perspectives on money. It also seems to excuse a certain amount of less-than-open behavior.

Chapters 2 through 4 present some interesting, though not necessarily useful, psychological theories about how a variety of episodes in child-rearing, including toilet training, affect attitudes about money. A reader could skip these chapters without missing adequate concrete information.

The concrete information that follows covers most of the issues that are apt to come up about money. For example, when a child is old enough to think about buying toys, candy, or movie tickets with his or her ``own'' money instead of just getting cash from the parents for each purchase, it's time to think about an allowance.

The arguments for or against an allowance are examined closely. Many parents, for example, prefer not to give one. They would rather have the kids come to them for money when they want something, believing this gives more control over spending and lets the parents have a say in buying decisions.

Weinstein, however, argues convincingly that this does not give children a chance to learn from their own mistakes and tells them the relationship is largely based on money and the manipulation that goes with it. While circumstances vary, she recommends starting some sort of allowance no later than the first grade.

Children can also work for money, and many do, both inside and outside the home. Special chores for special desires, like a new stereo, a guitar, or a trip with friends, are not uncommon in many families. Sure, Mom and Dad may have the cash to fulfill these requests, but the satisfaction for both parents and children is usually greater if some work has been done for it.

Children, even those under 16 years of age, often work outside the home. Lemonade stands, baby-sitting, paper routes, and lawn mowing are as much a part of growing up in America as Little League and slumber parties. While extolling the virtues of outside work, particularly the extra money, Weinstein points out the learning aspect of the experience, including accountability for previous commitments.

Whether their money comes from allowances, special chores in the home, or outside jobs, most of it is going to be spent on something. This is where children become consumers. Like adult consumers, they need to learn lessons about product quality, economical sizes, and fraudulent advertising claims. Weinstein feels parents can help teach these lessons. If your son insists on using his allowance for a toy you know will break quickly, let him buy it; a noncritical discussion afterward will help reinforce the painful lesson.

Sometimes acquisitive children fail to make the connection between wanting something and paying for it. For a very small child, seeing a toy in a store and walking off with it is simply an extension of what he does at home and should not be criticized too severely. In older children, it's called shoplifting and should be dealt with as part of the serious national problem it is.

Weinstein offers some helpful advice on dealing with this in children who are old enough to know they are stealing, who may think it's a thrill. The thrill can be dramatically reduced, she suggests, when they are forced to face the store owner and return the item, with an apology, or, pay for it.

Lessons like these, plus discussions of the influence of television, the use of credit, and dealing with grown-up children, will help adults think as much about their own attitudes toward money as the views they pass on to their youngsters.

Although the book is about money, it manages to keep money, its uses, and its limitations, in perspective, which makes ``Children and Money'' that much more useful.

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