Our eight-year-old son, Nathaniel, had developed an enthusiasm for the lottery that we emphatically did not share.
He'd been around some young adults while they scraped off their tickets - one of them had even won another ticket - and he found the gambling game neat and exciting.
Now he wanted to play the lottery himself, or rather, since the law forbids a child buying the tickets himself, he wanted us to buy tickets for him. He proposed to use his own money, but his mother and I agree that the lottery is not a healthy thing to get caught up in. Gambling in itself seems to teach something less than wholesome about how to make one's fortune.
Beyond that, I don't want my son lured into making what is clearly a sucker bet. For every dollar the player plunks down, chances are he'll pick up a measly four bits.
It may be true that "you can't win if you don't play," but we feel that the real winning in life comes from playing very different kinds of games. For some people, gambling proves addictive, and while the game can be fun, and fun is worth something, nonetheless there are good reasons why traditional moralities have regarded gambling as dangerous.
How, we wondered, should we deal with Nathaniel's insistent requests that he be allowed to play the lottery?
Certainly, we could simply forbid it. But we regard outright prohibition as an approach of last resort. What is kept always out of reach tends to gain the luster of forbidden fruit. We'd rather help our son learn how to make his own decisions wisely, how to integrate those aspects of life that are attractive but dangerous into his life in a way that strips them of their power.
So, the three of us negotiated a deal that gave our boy some room for him to work out his own attraction to the lottery, but set things up in a way that made it more likely he'd learn the lessons we thought wise rather than those advanced by the lottery ads.
We agreed to let Nat play the lottery once a month, but we stipulated that the money he used would have to be earned.
He would not be allowed to use the easy-come money that he gets as presents at Christmas or his birthday.
With earned money, we figured, he'd recognize the value and meaning of what he was spending. To earn a dollar for a lottery ticket, he'd have to work for a half hour on some job (beyond normal chores) that needed doing for the family. That way, at least when he wasted his money he'd have some idea that a piece of himself had been sacrificed for the right to play. He'd be in a position to make sensible decisions about how much weight to give to that momentary fun he got as he scratched off the graphite with hopes of striking it rich.
We figured that even though he might win something occasionally, the chances were overwhelming that over time he'd be a net loser. (And besides, if by some fluke he turned out to be one of those rare big winners, we could afford to hire him a tutor in probability theory!)
This was a year and a half ago. And how has it worked out?
At first he was eager for us to supply him with chores, and he played the lottery with his earnings for the first few months. And then? Well, somehow the subject of the lottery stopped coming up. When months went by without his showing any interest in buying lottery tickets, I asked him about it.
Nathaniel replied, "Sure, the lottery's fun. But the money goes pretty fast, and there are other things I can spend it on that keep on being fun."
Our boy's no fool.
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