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Book Review: The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Leiber
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Book Review: The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Leiber - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Leiber

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Leiber

Money is a strange topic of conversation. So much is written about it, and so many of our conversations revolve around it, that it's clear to anyone, including our children, that it's a subject of supreme importance. We are careful with religion and politics among friends and colleagues, but within the walls of our homes, we usually try our best to instill in our children our own values, so they are discussed a bit more openly (according to age-appropriateness, of course). Yet conversations of money are often shut down quickly when children ask questions about it, relegating it to the realm of sex or death: something only the grown-ups talk about. Children need not worry about money, so there is no need to bring it up.

How then are children supposed to learn about money, what to do with it, or how to think about it? Ron Lieber, in The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart about Money (HarperCollins, 2015), first addresses important parenting concepts, such as encouraging the development of children who are inquisitive and thoughtful, and then asks parents to consider reasons for money's status as a taboo subject. Lieber, a personal finance columnist for the New York Times, has interacted with parents on Facebook and through his website to explore this reticence, and asserts that the big motivator, regardless of differences in class or geography, is parents' fear of raising spoiled children. He presents evidence that "spoiled children tend to have four primary things in common, though they don’t all have to be present at once: They have few chores or other responsibilities, there aren’t many rules that govern their behavior or schedules, parents and others lavish them with time and assistance, and they have a lot of material possessions." As a set-up for his advice, he suggests that not discussing money causes more problems than it prevents, and that there are ways to talk about money with children that avoid these pitfalls in raising children who are not spoiled.

In fact, Lieber stresses that money as a topic for discussion can be a tool for sowing our values in our children, not only about money, but about many other developmental concerns: "Money is central, but it is also a teaching tool that uses the value of a dollar to instill in our children the values we want them to embrace. These traits—curiosity, patience, thrift, modesty, generosity, perseverance, and perspective—don’t belong to any one religion, region, or race." In remarkably clear, smart prose, Lieber shares examples he's collected of parents whose practices with children and money serve as lessons in entertainment, community, culture, and sharing.

The author doesn't waste time. Once he's presented his rationale, he leaps right into advice for answering the difficult questions children will inevitably ask about money: Are we poor? Are we rich? What's going to happen if mom or dad loses a job? Will we have to move and will I have to go to a new school? Why can't I have it if I'm going to pay for it with my own money? How much money do we make? Perhaps the best thing about Lieber's suggestions, aside from their clear, accessible voice, is that he doesn't shy away from specific, meaningful advice while leaving room for variation, supported with real experiences shared by people he's interviewed. A reader might not be comfortably in agreement about some advice, but he or she will generally have a sense of alternate approaches that might work best for his or her family.

Perhaps the best chapter is the one on allowance, a topic which Lieber pays a considerable amount of attention to. He repeats what many parents share about their reasoning behind tying allowances to chores: everyone wants to raise children who understand the value of a dollar, and that in order to get one you have to earn it. This approach subverts the critical lesson about contributing to the work in our homes not because we get paid for it, but because everyone in the family is in it together. "So allowance," he says, "ought to stand on its own, not as a wage but as a teaching tool that gets sharper and more potent over a decade or so of annual raises and increasing responsibility." Offering a three-jar approach to money (spending, saving, giving), he presents a structure for thinking about and budgeting money that young children can understand, one which offers flexibility in addressing the developmental needs specific to a family's priorities.

Along the way, and as a concluding thought, Lieber explores issues of materialism and knowing how much is enough, huge concepts that thinking grownups are likely still pondering in one form or another. Understanding that we are all works in progress and that we raise our children also to be continuing works in progress is an unstated but emphasized theme throughout the book. There is no guarantee that anything you do with your children now will lead in a straight line to some specific priority or trait they will possess as adults, but you can encourage in them a willingness to examine their thinking, to explore their feelings, and to make responsible decisions according to the paths they choose by way of the lessons you share (rather than avoid), and it is that purposeful, proactive approach that is the heart of the author's advice.

Highly recommended not only for parents, but for educators and anyone who plays a part in the development of young people.


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Book Review: The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Leiber - Executive Leadership Articles

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