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I Waaaant It!

Stephanie Rausser

I asked my friend and running partner Bonnie Federman, a mom of three, what worried her most about her kids and money. "Spoiled, spoiled, and spoiled," she replied. "That pretty much covers it for me."

As a mom of two girls, I have to agree. And parents have good reason to be more concerned than ever. Toy sales alone amounted to more than $20 billion last year, according to the Toy Industry Association, and even kids now view themselves as consumers: Children ages 4 to 12 spend billions on things like junk food, clothing, and toys.

Marketers are bypassing parents to target kids directly in increasingly sophisticated ways. For instance, Lisa Schifman, of Leawood, Kansas, took her grade-schooler to a winter soccer clinic, only to discover that the walls of the gym were covered with advertisements. "Why do I have to get nagged at a soccer practice?" she asks, reflecting the exasperation all of us now feel.

I don't have to tell you that this emphasis on stuff to buy isn't good for children; I haven't spoken to a single parent who isn't worried that her kids will come out with a skewed sense of what money can  -- and can't  -- do for them. The question now is what to do about it. How do you control the factors that are making your kids want more and more things? How do you say no fairly and consistently, even when you're tired of fighting? How do you teach them to delay their purchases and really value them? We talked to moms and financial experts for reality-tested answers to parents' top concerns:

"My kids want everything they see on TV"
"I let my kids watch television while I'm making dinner," says Susana MacLean, mom of a 5-year-old and 3-year-old in Westfield, New Jersey. "One day my daughter came running and said, 'Mommy, there are two new Barbies and I don't have them!'"

How to handle it: MacLean decided to limit her kids' access to commercial TV. While monitoring the shows your child watches is one way to respond, it's not your only option. Ads also provide teachable moments. When Schifman was at a toy store with her three sons, they saw the same chocolate-candy maker that the boys had seen on TV. "They looked at it, and thought it looked like a piece of junk, so we discussed how sometimes commercials have a way of making things look good that really aren't."

Carolyn Hoyt, a mom of two, writes for More and Organic Style.