12/20: Kids and Cell Phones

December 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Carol Anne Riddell

When should a child be given his/her own cell phone?  Who is the phone really for — the parent or the child?  What rules and restrictions should be placed on the phone’s use?

Carol Anne Riddell

Carol Anne Riddell

The Marist Poll’s John Sparks speaks with Marist Poll Contributor Carol Ann Riddell about the plusses and minuses of equipping your child with a wireless phone.

Listen to the interview below.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, let’s talk about cell phones.  Specifically at what age do you think a child should have his or her own cell phone?

Listen to Part 1:


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Carol Anne
Well, I think that it’s a very individual decision, like so many things in parenting, you have to make the decision is that right for your own family. In my case, my children are young.  My daughter is seven years old and has a cell phone.  Now before everyone would jump up and down and say that’s completely inappropriate, I would point out that because her father and I are divorced, she’s traveling with a sitter back and forth between my home and school and her father’s home, and I want her — I want both my kids to know that they can reach me whenever they want to.  Now that said, nine and seven years old are probably too young for phones in many people’s opinions, but I had to make a decision based on what I felt was appropriate to my specific situation. Now there have been some pitfalls with it.  I do think that my children are still at an age where there really a bit too young to be fully responsible for something as valuable as a cell phone, so it ends up that I’m the one finding the phone, making sure it’s charged, that sort of situation.  But again, because of our specific family situation, I think the benefit of being able to be in touch outweighed the downside for me, at least at this point. For most people, they think about cell phones older, more to the point of, you know tweens, I would say 10/11 years old is a more typical time to do it.

John Sparks
What are some other reasons you might give a child a cell phone?

Carol Anne
Well, I think there’s a lot of reasons, but for most parents it has to all do with security, with convenience, and with piece of mind for all of us.  My children are too young to be traveling on their own, but there still are times where they may want or need to call me, and I want them to have the security of knowing that they can reach me.  I want to have the security of knowing that I can reach them. There are things like day to day logistics, a piano lesson gets cancelled, a soccer game goes late, and I don’t want to be an alarmist, but you know you can’t ignore the potential for crisis situations in which we would want to be able to reach our kids first and foremost. When you think of things like school shootings, what we all went through here in New York on 9/11, the potential for natural disasters, those are all times when we, as parents, have to be able to get to our kids immediately and first and foremost.

John Sparks
So, who does the cell phone benefit most, the parent or the child?

Carol Anne
I think both. I admit that getting my kids cell phones was very much also about me.  As I said, as a divorced parent, I really want to be able to contact my kids even when they’re not with me, and a cell phone gives me that access. But there’s also a very big benefit for them because they feel connected. They feel connected to me emotionally, and that’s really important to me. I think that there is another piece of this for kids which has to do with sort of the status symbol of having a cell phone, and that can be very counterproductive for kids.

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John Sparks
What kind of rules or restrictions do you place on the use of the phone by your child?

Carol Anne
As many as I can come up with, John, and I think that that’s generally a good rule to follow, at least in the beginning.  There’s lots of options that you can consider when you look at a cell phone for your child, like a prepaid plan. You can look at restricting what the phone can actually do, like Internet browsing and texting. We also have a habit of really looking very closely at the bill every month because I don’t want the kids downloading tons of games and ringtones. The point is that the phone is not a toy.  It’s a way for us to stay in touch.  Now, so far we haven’t had issues with the kids downloading expensive, unnecessary stuff, but we do have to keep a close eye on that because I think that that comes with the territory eventually. Another thing that we thought about it, and I think it’s an important thing to remember as parents go through this, is really thinking about limiting who your kids can talk to on the cell phone.  Behold, don’t talk to strangers policy applies to the wireless world too and there are options with phones where you can specifically program who they can speak to, and I think that that’s a really good option for people to consider.  Phone cameras, that’s another area you have to be really careful in. Kids can end up taking or receiving really inappropriate pictures, and that’s something you’d want to think about when buying a phone. I’m a big fan of going with sort of the most basic phone you can possibly get for kids. I think it’s more than enough and plenty.

John Sparks
You know in the classroom, teachers usually have rules about the phones being turned off. Do you run into problems there in equipping your kids with their cell phones?

Carol Anne
Yeah, we certainly talk to them about it.  My kids will stick their cell phones in their backpacks, but they remained turned off until they get out of school and they need to call me. I think parents have to be really very aware of that.  You’ll probably remember in New York City there was a lot of controversy around this issue because of the policy not allowing cell phones in the classroom and kids not knowing what to do with them when they got to school, but there are some very valid arguments for why they don’t want them in the classroom that are very obvious too.  There… A cell…  A ringing cell phone is disruptive to everyone in the class.  So in addition to the rules about I think who kids can talk to and what they can download, you really have to have rules about when they can use the phone, and the school day is absolutely off limits.

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John Sparks
Carol Anne, are these phones addictive?  Do they keep your child from doing homework, taking care of the chores, keeping focus on school?

Carol Anne
I don’t think that we can say that yes, phones are bad, phones are addictive or video games are bad, video games are addictive, but I do think that when parents allow kids to use cell phones inappropriately, yes, they can be bad and, yes, they probably can be addictive in some sense of the word. I think distraction is a very serious issue.  We have to have strict rules about when the phones can be turned on and they can be used, but I think that this is all through the same way that you monitor things like video games and TV watching, common sense applies, and when the rules get broken, there are consequences for that.  In our case, the phone gets taken away for a period of time.  There is a real downside I think to kids using the phones constantly to communicate rather than sort of walking to the next room and speaking to the person in it, and I think that’s something we want to avoid.

John Sparks
You know, I was going to ask you if all this texting and tweeting and telephoning kept them from developing their social skills and makes them want to avoid face-to-face contact.  What do you think about that?

Carol Anne
It’s such a fascinating topic, and I think we have to as parents, really consider how technology is affecting this generation of children because, as we know, it is a completely wireless generation. They are always connected, and we just didn’t have that as part of our experience growing up. I do think there’s a risk when kids spend too much time communicating via text and email that they lose out as far as building those face-to-face communication skills, and I think that we — there’s evidence of that.  We’ve seen that, and we’ve heard that talked about a lot.  On the other hand, we can’t ignore that this is our reality. Technology is here. It’s not going away.  What we try to do is sort of manage screen time generally in our house, and by screen time, I mean computers and TV and iPods and phones, the whole thing, anything that has a screen. Play a game of cards or Uno instead. But I have… And we do have to remember that you can’t turn back time, and I don’t think we would want to either.

John Sparks
I agree there. Is a cell phone a necessity for my child?

Carol Anne
Ah, you know that is a very interesting question. I think it really depends on the individual family, and I think in many, many cases parents would say, “Yes,” particularly for an older child. For example, a child in New York City who is traveling alone to and from school and may be taking the bus or may be taking the subway and that parent really feels that it is an absolute necessity to check in with that child when he or she gets off the subway or gets off the bus. I think there are certainly situations where parents and kids would say, “It is absolutely a necessity.” I think there are also situations where parents are simply indulging kids like they do with any other luxury item, having the coolest, newest, fastest thing, and cell phones can fall into that category because they have become a real status symbol for children. I think that the cell phone conversation is a great chance to talk to kids about some of these things.  For starters, what you just mentioned, John, what is a want versus what is a need?  And what does it mean to be responsible for something that’s really valuable because a cell phone costs money.  There’s real value to do that. And what’s the repercussion if you do lose that item?  We have… In our house, we have this three-month replacement policy for all those types of valuable items, things like an iPod or a Nintendo DS or phone, and we’ve had to use that. That is an extremely hard lesson because 12 weeks feels like a lifetime to a child, but it’s a really valuable lesson, and you know the hard, sad, last thing I would say on that also is that don’t think that giving your kids a phone means that they’re always going to be available to talk to you because it’s amazing how often they’re too busy to pick up.

Part 4:


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John Sparks
Well, that’s what I was going to ask.  Say you get in a spat with your child, your child gets in a huff and won’t take your calls anymore, it’s kind of a power play.

Carol Anne
It can be, and I think that it’s absolutely true and sad to say, but I think in those situations what we always have to remember, right, is that we’re the parent, and you have to then reserve the right to take that phone away. If my call keeps getting declined, and that hasn’t happened to me yet, but if it does, I’ll be the first one to be putting that phone in the top dresser drawer for awhile.

John Sparks
Anything else you’d like to add, Carol Anne?

Carol Anne
You know, there’s just one other thought that I had about some of this as we were talking and that is when we think about things like the texting and the e-mailing and the sort of digital shorthand that kids have, one thing that I’ve noticed, and I’ve done some stories about this in the past as well, is that kids use so much shorthand now because of the language of texting that I think sometimes things like spelling and handwriting can suffer. I’ve interviewed teachers before who have complained about even older students really having terrible spelling skills because they haven’t really learned appropriate ways to spell, and they have a computer correct it for them so it’s not part of their knowledge base, or they will use text shorthand in a formal paper, and I think that that’s something also that as parents, we have to really watch for as kids use this kind of technology, particularly at very young ages. They’re just developing these skills to write and speak and read fluently, and when they’re young and they sort of fall into the habits of texting shorthand, I think it can be disruptive to those skills.  So, I think it’s just another thing that I’ve noticed, and I’m keeping an eye on myself.

John Sparks
Certainly I’ve noticed that, or I’ve been told rather that kids no longer write nor can they read or decipher cursive because of this.

Carol Anne
I think that’s a very common thing.  I think cursive is not as widely taught as it once was, and I think kids really have their own shorthand language that is part of a digital world that we just didn’t — you know we didn’t have anything like that growing up, and you know again, I think there is something to moving forward, and we can’t turn back time. We don’t want to turn back progress, and we don’t want to turn back technology, but there are some very basic skills that are not debatable in terms of their value, and I think like learning to write clearly and spell well, and I think that to the degree that texting and that kind of shorthand interrupts that is a real problem.

John Sparks
Thank you, Carol Anne. It’s always a pleasure talking with you.

Carol Anne
Thanks, John. I appreciate it.

7/7: Kids and Sports

Carol Anne Riddell is a veteran reporter who specializes in issues dealing with children.  She is also a mother.  And, when she talked with the Marist Poll’s John Sparks, they discussed sports and what it teaches our children.  Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

Carol Anne Riddell

Carol Anne Riddell

John Sparks
Carol Anne, the Marist Poll did a survey asking about people’s favorite childhood sport.  Did you play sports growing up as a child?

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Carol Anne Riddell
Yeah, I did a bit.  I guess my favorite things were probably tennis and lacrosse.  I wasn’t terribly good, but I was very, very good, I’m still very good, at air hockey.  I don’t know if that actually counts as a sport, though, but I enjoyed sports.

John Sparks
Did your parents get involved in watching you participate?

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, not so much.  My parents were very busy. They sort of had their own lives. They did periodically.  I also went to boarding school.  So, that was a different kind of arrangement, because my parents weren’t there all the time.  But they were not as involved in that way, I think, as I am as a parent now.

John Sparks
I know that you’ve heard some of the same horror stories that I have about parents who get overly involved in their children’s sports activities.  You’ve got young kids, are you one of those who lives vicariously through the athletic abilities of your kids?

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, John, I mean I think we’re all a little bit guilty of that.  My six-year-old daughter is a great soccer player, and I admit that I get a lot of pleasure out of watching her tear up the field.  But, I think for me, it’s more about just seeing them excel, not necessarily in sports, but sort of in anything.  My nine-year-old is a voracious reader.  So, we talk a lot about books, and I feel the same way listening to his amazing vocabulary and his ability to recount stories to me as I do watching her play soccer.

John Sparks
How are parents to instill values of sportsmanship that we say we value when they scream at their kids and the officials on the playing field?

Carol Anne Riddell
I think the short answer is that we don’t.  What you hear over and over about every aspect of good parenting is you got to role model. You have to behave yourself the way that you want your kids to behave, and we can tell them over and over again to play fair and be gracious when they lose, but if they see us screaming like lunatics and over-reacting to losses, then all of that what we’ve said is pretty much meaningless to them.  I think another thing about that is that you can role model that good sportsmanship, not necessarily, just on the field, but if you’re watching a ball game together. It doesn’t actually have to be taught in the middle of a game.

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John Sparks
Well, we are kind of trained that winning is everything.  So, how do we deal with our kids’ disappointments when they come up on the losing team?

Carol Anne Riddell
It’s tough.  We all want our kids to be the best at everything.  It’s just … I think it’s part of our DNA as parents, but adults also know that disappointment is a part of life.  And in a lot of ways, the real measure of who we are, what makes us who we are, lies in how we handle those hurdles.  Do you give up when you lose, and do you walk away, or do you get back up, and do you try again?  I think we have to teach our kids, and it’s obviously easier said than done, that losing makes winning all the sweeter.  We have to praise them for the effort and not just the victory, and I also think we really have to praise them.  It’s really helpful to them to point out when they handle a loss well because, let’s be honest, it’s just — it’s a lot easier to win than lose.  Do you ever hear of a sore winner?

John Sparks
Now, you were telling me about instances in some kids’ leagues where everyone gets a trophy, and there are no losers.  Is that really a good idea when the real world does not operate that way?

Carol Anne Riddell
I don’t think that it is. I think that it really teaches kids in a sense to be over-entitled as if they believe that they’re just entitled to win, and I don’t think that there’s a lot of work ethic in that.  I really think, and this goes beyond just sports for me, so this is obviously an issue I have a strong opinion on, that which we’re creating this generation of over-entitled children, that they don’t see the sacrifice and the hard work that has to go into winning.  And, if we don’t teach them that work ethic, then, they run the risk of growing into these adults who just want the BMW at the end of rainbow.

Listen to Part 3:

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John Sparks
The other thing, there is such an emphasis on sports, especially professional and major college sports, that at a very early age, if a young boy or girl shows any athletic ability, the parents bring in paid professional trainers and coaches, and they carry through with select leagues all for the goal of getting an athletic scholarship or a pro contract.  What kind of problems does this create?

Carol Anne Riddell
I got to say, I believe it’s just a whole host of problems.  I mean obviously they’re going to be kids who are exceptional athletes, but the vast majority of them are not going to be turning pro anytime.  So, as adults, we set them up to struggle against this very unrealistic expectation.  I think that also when we as the grownups invest so much time and, by the way, so much money in things like private training and coaches, what we’re saying to our kids is this is what matters.  And, what we should be saying to them is this is one of many things that matter.  What about academics?  What about citizenship?  What about just being a good friend? I think we really have to ask ourselves, and again, I am not perfect at this: Do I want this for the good of my child, or do I want this for myself?

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John Sparks
We glamorize professional athletes, and some of these folks that play in the professional league, their behavior is really reprehensible, even criminal sometimes, but yet they score touchdowns, sink buckets, hit a baseball 400 feet, and we look the other way. What does that really say about our values?

Carol Anne Riddell
Well, this one is sort of a sore subject for me, because I do really have a strong opinion. I think it is bad for kids and bad for adults to glamorize some of these celebrities who in so many ways model poor behavior, and I just — I think we have to be really discerning as parents.  The kids are going to hear about the big celebrities whether we think they’re good role models or not, but there are sure sport figures who are in fact good role models.  So, I think what we have to do, what I try to do with my kids is like figure out who some of them are in a sport that your child loves and, then, tell your kids why you like them. Maybe that celebrity is involved with worthy causes, or maybe they demonstrate good sportsmanship, or maybe they’re devoted to their families.  The point is, I think we really have to teach our kids to look up to some of these figures whose values actually align with ours as opposed to just those who seem to be the most athletic, but their behavior otherwise may be questionable.

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John Sparks
You know there’s another problem I see and that is I think that sometimes we as adults over-schedule our kids. I’m just curious, are you one of those soccer moms who spends a big part of your day making sure your child gets to the game and practice?

Carol Anne Riddell
There is so much I am guilty of as a mom, but so far that’s not my issue, at least not yet.  However, my daughter’s starting a soccer league in the fall, so we’ll see if I end up following my own advice or not, for sure.  I do feel like it’s important once they’ve committed to something that they be committed to it. That they show up.  That they go to the practices they’re supposed to go to, but I have to say that I think a lot of our kids these days, and it’s not just with sports, it’s with lots of things, are just scheduled to the nth degree, and I’m not sure if it’s the best thing.

John Sparks
You know when I was a kid, a lot of us just played sandlot ball, no adults around.  We got in fights.  We had differences, but somehow that’s the way we learned to get along with another.  Do you think perhaps that it might be good to let our kids go about being kids, and we as adults and parents stay out of it?

Carol Anne Riddell
I’d say absolutely, John. I mean I think some of the greatest life lessons that I ever learned were while I was playing kick the can with the kids in my neighborhood, but you know it was a different time and that was in Michigan, and I don’t have the luxury of sending my kids out into the parks of Manhattan to play a game of pick-up.  So, I think we have to balance; sort of creating those opportunities for them to learn on their own with the practicalities of just raising kids in 2010.  I do love those four words – Work it out yourselves, and I use them a lot around here.

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John Sparks
Carol Anne, I really appreciate your time. Anything else you want to add on the subject of kids and sports?

Carol Anne Riddell
Yeah, just one other thought that I had, John, that I think has been really helpful to me is that I think it’s so important to teach kids about winning and losing really early on. And, one of the best ways, I mean it’s obviously not directly related to sports, but one of the best ways that I think we’ve done that is to play board games with them.  You can play board games with kids of almost any age because there are things that appropriate for even very young children, and it allows you an opportunity to really teach them about winning and losing and for them to experience winning and losing. And, I think when they win a little bit, it becomes that much easier to lose the next time, because they understand what it is to win, and they understand that they can win again.  So whether it’s like Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land or whatever it is, I feel like I started having those conversations with my kids about winning and losing at very young ages, and it hasn’t always been perfect, but I do think it starts to get the message to them very early on.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, I really appreciate it.  It’s always good to talk to you.

Carol Anne Riddell
And, you too.

Carol Anne Riddell

July 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Carol Anne Riddell

Carol Anne Riddell served as anchor of News 4 New York’s 6 and 11 p.m. Sunday evening newscasts. Joining News 4 New York in September 1996, Riddell also covered children and education, and in 2005, launched “Family Matters,” a weekly segment that focuses on family and parenting issues. In addition, Riddell has covered the New York City School System overcrowding crisis, filed multiple reports on the deplorable conditions of several city schools and examined how the system handles the special needs of disabled students. Riddell’s reports have also helped shed light on some of the specific problems affecting New York City schools, including a story on a child who missed weeks of class due to a busing error. After Riddell reported this story, the child finally received proper transportation. Her series on schools disposing of uneaten food also prompted the Board of Education to review its policies and to meet with groups that deliver food to the needy. Carol Anne recently received awards from the NY State Associated Press Broadcasters Association for First Place in Best Feature and was also honored in the category of general excellence in individual reporting.

Carol Anne Riddell

Carol Anne Riddell

Before joining News 4 New York, Riddell served as reporter, host, and anchor at New York 1 News from 1992-96 where she covered politics, education, and investigative and general assignment stories.

Riddell has garnered numerous awards including three New York State Broadcasters Association awards for Outstanding Individual Program/Series Designed for Children (2002), Outstanding Hard News Story (2001) and Outstanding Public Affairs Programming (2000); part of the News 4 New York team honored with an Emmy®-award for the 2003-04 series, “What Matters;” “New York Cub Reporter of the Year” and a Feature Award honor from the New York Press Club; a National Award for Education Reporting by The Education Writers Association for her story, “Lost Bounty;” honored, along with Gabe Pressman and Melissa Russo, by the Citizens Committee for Children for their coverage on what is affecting kids; and the first-ever Hunter College School of Education Media Appreciation Award for her outstanding efforts to convey the challenges and opportunities of urban education. In 2006, she served as President of the Inner Circle, an organization of journalists that raises money for local charities. In 2000, Riddell served as President of the New York Press Club, after serving as a member of the Club’s Board of Directors. Riddell graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tufts University, and received a Master of Science degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Cluing Kids In About Cash: An Interview

Talking to children about money can present its own set of problems.  What’s the appropriate age to discuss money matters with your kids?  And, how can you teach them financial responsibility?

Carol Anne Riddell

Carol Anne Riddell

Parenting and Education Reporter Carol Anne Riddell shared some of her insights with the Marist Poll’s John Sparks.  Read the transcript of the full interview below.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, what do you think is a good age to start talking to children about money?

Listen to Part 1 of the Interview:

Carol Anne Riddell
Well, it’s an interesting thing. I think that you can start almost at any age, as early as kids are interested in it.  I’ve always been surprised at how much kids know even before we think they do, and I think even very young children can really benefit from some discussion about money.  I think I first talked to my son, you know, in a more in-depth way about money when he was five or six years old when he started to covet very specific things.  I think the key is to keep the conversation age-appropriate and relevant to the things that kids understand or care about.

John Sparks
So what do you tell a six-year-old about money?

Carol Anne Riddell
I think it’s important for children to understand that money is earned and money is a means to get the things that we need and we want, but we, as adults, also have to really stress that there’s lots of things that money can’t buy like health and happiness and some of the things that kids like the best, like playing outdoors or hanging out with their friends.  Those things are completely free.

John Sparks
Well now, you have kids yourself, tell me what you tell them about money.

Carol Anne Riddell
I’ve had many conversations, John.  I’ve told them that they are lucky that we have enough money to have things that we need and sometimes the things that we want.  I try to on a pretty regular basis to give them some financial decision-making power by letting them choose between things, so maybe is it going to be a coloring book today, or is it going to be a ice cream cone.  So, they feel like they’ve had some power in that process.  We have a tradition in our family:  we regularly take the spare change that they save to their local bank and we use the coin counter, and then when we get the cash from that, I let them spend a portion of it, and then they have to take another portion of it and save it, and another portion of it we give to charity which usually means just walking across the street to the soup kitchen or a church in our neighborhood.  But, I feel like it’s giving them a very good sense of the different things that money can be used for, not just to get things in the immediate, but to save for things long-term and to help other people.

John Sparks
I think that’s great.  Now you know we’re in an economic recession.  Does it add to the stress to talk about money problems with children? I know all of us are experiencing instances where we must tighten our belts.

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, as I was saying before, I really think that our kids usually know so much more than we realize about adult topics.  So, if we are stressed out about money, they are almost undoubtedly sense that.  They overhear our conversations. They pick up information from the news, and even if we are very careful about moderating what we say in front of kids, other adults may not be, and other children may not be.  So, I think we have to start from a baseline that they may very well know more than we think.  So, if you understand that, the thing is that kids often imagine something worse than the actual reality.  You have to remember that kids may think that if they hear a parent talking about being concerned about getting all the bills paid this month you know they may take that and think that it means they’re not going to have a roof over their head, or they’re not going to be able to have food on the table.  They may take it at a different level than actually exists, so it’s important, I think, to make sure they understand in a kid-friendly way what actual reality is.  We have to be honest with them, but I think as the parents, we have to also be reassuring so that the kids understand that even if families have to make some different, maybe even difficult choices, they will always be taken care of.  Another thing that I’ve really heard a lot over the years is that an important thing when you talk to kids about things like this is to follow their lead because you’ll get a sense of when they have enough information so you don’t want to overload them with details they don’t need or they don’t want.

John Sparks

Now, you’ve done several stories about money and kids.  What tips have you picked up on how the parents should deal with their kids about money?

Listen to Part 2:

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, one of the things that I’ve heard and I’ve thought about a lot myself as a parent, and I think it’s a pretty good point is that adults should distinguish between giving children the opportunity to earn money and spend money and using money as bribery to get the behavior that we want.  Also that process of saving for money, saving money for something a child wants, can be really rewarding. My son wanted this particular video game, so he saved for weeks. Then he brought his little toy safe down to the store, and he bought this game, and he was so proud of himself, and I think that the reward of having the game was great in itself, but the fact that he had purchased it made it much more significant to him.  It was also hilarious to watch him like crack open the plastic safe at the store, but you know, I think it’s a very important lesson for kids, and it’s a simple thing, but it’s meaningful. Another really important tool is the allowance. Now in our house, the allowance is tied to chores. My kids have to do certain sort of simple chores in order to earn their allowance.  Some people disagree with that and feel like chores should be part of just family responsibility and not tied to an allowance.  Families do it different ways. I think that you can do that either way, and it’s something you have to be comfortable with, but the allowance itself is a good way to teach kids about I have X amount of money and I want Y, so here’s how long I have to save for it.

John Sparks
I’m curious, when you were a child, did you get an allowance?

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, I did get an allowance, but it was not such a regular thing.  Often I went to my parents when I wanted something, and I would ask for money, and sometimes I got it, and sometimes I didn’t.  I do remember being rewarded with money for good report cards.  Again, that’s something that some people would say is probably not the best use of money, but I don’t think it had any negative effect on me. I think I always understood that the goal was learning and good grades and not that I would get the $20 at the end of the year, the school year, but that’s really sort of an individual choice. I think the allowance concept in itself is a great one, and then each family has to determine what they’re most comfortable with within their own family.

John Sparks
Are there specific things that parents can teach their children about handling money that could make us better off as a whole, perhaps if we had done certain things we could’ve avoided some of the economic pitfalls that we find ourselves in today?

Carol Anne Riddell
Yeah.  You know I think, John, yes, yes, and yes.  We really need to teach our children the difference between need and want, and this is a conversation that I have with my kids all the time.  This moment in history is really one of those what they call — what teachers like to call “teachable moments.”  It’s a chance for us to point out repercussions, again in a kid-friendly way, for aggressive greed and dishonesty. It’s also a chance for us to talk to our kids about how connected all of us are.  You know when people lose their jobs, they can’t spend their money at the local grocer, the local shoe store, then the grocer or the shoe owner, have trouble paying their bills. I think it’s a good way to show children the way all – - the way there is an interdependency among all of us.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, you reported extensively on public education.  What, if anything, are schools teaching our kids about money?

Listen to Part 3:

Carol Anne Riddell
I think that the landscape is really changing on that front because I have been in a lot of schools in the last few years that have been getting very serious about this, schools that are teaching financial literacy classes to even grade school, middle school children.  Some schools are working directly with banks and other financial institutions. They’re teaching kids how to budget, how to manage a checking account, how to manage a savings account, and I think that a lot of schools look at that as much more a part of the real important curriculum than they used to because we are in such a difficult financial time and kids are going to need those skills.

John Sparks
One of the things that has landed us in this difficult financial situation we find ourselves is credit and being irresponsible with credit.  How do you talk to your kids about credit and about being responsible and budgeting and things like doing without?

Carol Anne Riddell

Well you know, we’ve all heard those stories about college kids who end up in tremendous trouble because of credit debt.  I think one way to avoid that is to really teach kids money management early on in small ways and in big ways, and I mean when they’re young.  For example, let them help you make a budget for going to the grocery store or for a family vacation.  Here’s the list of all the things we’d like to do on our vacation.  We can only afford to do three of those things.  Let’s sit down and look at what each one costs and pick the ones that we want to do.  I think it’s a great way for them to understand that we have to make financial sacrifices.  I think it’s also a great idea to get kids savings accounts and then to go over statements with them and, again, let them earn money. Let them save money, and then let them purchase something that they’ve wanted.  It’s a great lesson.  My son, as I said before, has to take out the garbage and the recycling to earn his weekly allowance. It’s taken him a lot of trips to the garbage room to get some of the video games he wanted, but I think the reward is sweeter because of that.

John Sparks
Should our sons and daughters have responsibilities or share the responsibility in contributing to the family’s overall finances?

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, John, I think that it’s a tricky and it’s sort of a complicated question because we all know that there are families for whom there’s just no other choice and a lot of times that’s just the case.  But I would say that ideally a child should not have to do anything other than go to school, be a good student, and learn, and that’s the ideal situation. If a child is sort of forced to actually have to go out and earn money, that can really cut into, you know, their ability to focus on academics. Now I have a different opinion on this when we start talking about older children or adult children because I’ve done a lot of stories about adult children returning and living at home, and I think in that case, if you have a college age student who comes back home, I think it’s important that those students, those young people, contribute to the family because it can alleviate a lot of stress if everyone knows what the expectations are for both the parents and the adult children, and I think that also in that case with an older child helps them adapt to what they will face as an adult living on their own.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, obviously you’ve given all these things a lot of thought.  Are there any other thoughts that you might have or would want to add in thinking about children and money?

Listen to Part 4:

Carol Anne Riddell
You know, I was thinking a little bit about this before we chatted today about what age is great to start an allowance at, and there’s a lot of debate back and forth. I think one of the things I would say is that you have to really listen to your child because some kids can develop a fascination with money very early on, and so it’s important to know your child and what they can handle. Some people say that a good gauge is about a dollar a year, so a five-year-old would get $5 a week, or you know a ten-year-old would get $10 a week.  I’ve found that less is more in our case.  I usually start on the lower end, and then I move it up about like a dollar a year, and I feel like that’s been pretty effective, but I’ve also noticed real differences between my two children.  While my son is very thoughtful about saving his money and wanting to spend his money, my daughter less interested in it, less focused on it, less focused on buying things, and so for her, I haven’t started her an allowance yet because I just don’t think she’s really ready to handle it.  So one point I would make to parents is really try to gauge your child’s interest level and their responsibility level before you give them an allowance.

John Sparks
Do you ever have conversations with your kids about envy?  For instance, does your son come home and say, “Well, Johnny has this and I want this,” or conversations about greed?

Carol Anne Riddell
Absolutely, a lot of conversations about that, and I think it’s a human reaction.  All of us feel envious of something at some point. One of the things I found that’s helpful to get around that is just to acknowledge it, and say, “Well that must be nice that Tommy has X, but let’s talk about the things that you have,” and I don’t necessarily mean materialistic things, but sometimes we’ll go through a list of all the wonderful things in my kid’s life that they should be happy for, they may be material or nonmaterial, and I think in a way it just sort of helps to count your own blessings, and it can bring you back and make you a little more centered. I mean, it works for me as an adult, so I try to make it work for my kids.

John Sparks
Very good. I sure appreciate it Carol Anne.  It was great talking with you, and I appreciate your thoughtful answers.

Carol Anne Riddell
All right, thanks so much.  It’s been great talking to you.

** The views and opinions expressed in this and other interviews found on this site are expressly those of the speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Marist Poll.

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