September 16, 2003

Usual Suspects Face Blame Again

FOX NEWS CONTINUES in its efforts to put us in a gloomy mood all of the time. You see, we learned today that certain American parents are not only spoiling their children to an awful and unheard-of extent, they are even accumulating debt to do it:

From overnight slumber parties at F.A.O. Schwarz to custom-crafted playhouses with marble floors, some children of the new millennium are getting the chance to live out their hearts' desires, thanks to their folks' willingness to overspend and desires to outdo the neighbors.

"Parents are going into debt and taking out loans to satisfy their children," said Dr. Susan Bartell, child psychologist and author of "Stepliving for Teens." "They use their kids as a projection of themselves as a means of impressing people."

Whether it means purchasing a $40,000 motorized mini-Ferrari Testarossa or life-size Lincoln logs from KinderTimber, some parents are taking extreme measures in an effort to top the presents bought by their fellow PTA members.

The Fox story even informs us that there is a Web site entirely devoted to selling such outrageously-priced goods, such as Palm Springs II Crib Linens, a steal at $1,528. There is also a $47,000 children's playhouse for sale.

Yes, that's right. Forty seven thousand American dollars. For a playhouse.

When we were young, back in the Seventies, we also had a playhouse. This particular playhouse was lovingly constructed out of cardboard, and may have cost something on the order of $10. We had many hours of fun with it. Then we moved to Michigan, and our father threw the playhouse away with sundry other unnecessary household goods, such as that inflatable punching doll we had that ended up on the roof one time. Or maybe that was broken earlier; we can't remember.

Anyway, we were rather distraught at losing our favorite playhouse, but Mr Kepple's decision stood. Of course, this was the right decision, as we forgot about the playhouse until this evening. Also it was one of many important lessons we picked up as children. Namely, that life was often unfair and unpleasant and no, we were not going to have our way or get everything we wanted. Also, we ought eat everything on our plates -- including the tiny scraps of meat which we failed to detect as still being on the chicken, but which our parents, using skills they picked up from their parents who had been through the Depression, were able to glean without any extra effort at all.

This is not to say that we grew up in an overly strict household or one in which we were deprived of the necessities of life. Indeed, we can assure you that we had adequate shelter, food and medical/dental care. We were even granted use of an adequate but non-flashy used car at the age of 17 years and six months.

That said, we know that our parents STILL have that old West Bend popcorn popper from the mid-Seventies in use; and we suspect they would STILL have that old plastic furniture in the basement, made by the good people at Syroco, except that it finally broke in the mid-Nineties. Hence, if we had ever asked for a $47,000 playhouse as children, we would have been met with gales of laughter from both our parents. If we had persisted, we probably would have been sent to our room for being so impertinent.

This may help explain why we are so befuddled at the idea of any rational adult spending $47,000 for a playhouse. The sheer amount for the product makes such spending wasteful and decadent, even though we fully realize that plenty of people (plenty being about 50,000 in all of the nation) could afford or justify buying such a thing. In fact, it is so wasteful and decadent that we found ourselves grinding our teeth into powder, and recalled the bitter words of rightfully-forgotten German poets, and generally stewing in our own discontent.

This is not to say that we agree with von Selchow, the writer we had in mind, as we find what little we know of his work anti-democratic and quite disagreeable. But we do know that no matter how well we do in life, we will teach our children the same tenets our parents taught us. Namely, that if one wants something, one has to work for it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at September 16, 2003 10:42 PM | TrackBack

It sounds like your parents, especially your father, were very wise and gave you a great upbringing grounded in the right values. By the way, the West Bend "Stir Crazy" popcorn machine is one of the best kitchen appliances ever made.

Posted by: Swammi in Solon at September 17, 2003 08:22 AM

Where do they go from there, anyway? Where is the impetus to succeed, to go out and work harder and smarter to improve one's quality of life?

My sister had a friend in high school who at one point owned not one, but TWO Corvettes -- a used one and a brand new one. Where does she go from there? She'd better marry VERY well. And what an example for any guy to have to live up to!

"My Daddy gave me a brand new Corvette, what can you give me?"

One of the greatest things a parent can give a child is the knowledge and understanding that there are rewards for hard work (and no benefits in particular for laziness). The parents in the story appear to be failing to give this very basic knowledge.

Posted by: Kevin White at September 17, 2003 04:37 PM


You are most certainly right in that assessment.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at September 17, 2003 07:55 PM

With all due respect Ben, this is much ado about nothing. I highly doubt parents-spending-WAY-too-much on their children is pressing problem. More likely, this was simply an attempt by our friends at Fox News to sensationalize, scandalize, and generally make its own news.

You're a news man, Ben, and I used to be. We do this all the time in the journalism business. Our budget entries are looking a little thin, so we beef 'em up. We remember hearing something about some rich wackos somewhere buying $47,000 club houses for their children, and think, "'Aha! There's a great story idea!" So we put it on the budget, our editors eat it up, and we're on the front page with aggrandized news.

Don't get too depressed, Ben. It's not an issue. I assure you, most parents are still reasonable people, and most of those parents wealthy enough to be able to afford such things became wealthy for a reason: Hard Work. It's a virtue they are no doubt instilling in their kids. And if they're not? Well then, the family wealth doesn't deserve to continue, now, does it?

Matthew Schwartz

Posted by: Matthew Schwartz at September 23, 2003 04:14 PM