Preteen kids have, unfortunately, become consumers — in fact, the term "tween" was invented by the marketing industry, which quickly spotted potential and targeted this age group with special campaigns and new, custom-designed products. Not only do children in this age range today have more money to spend than in previous generations, but they also influence the family spending, both for regular weekly purchases and big-ticket items. Developmentally, tweens are hungry for autonomy, peer approval, and status.
Today's 8 year olds are even more conscious of money, of what others think of them, and of looking good and behaving like teenagers than ever before. They are also eager to express their surer sense of self through choosing what to own and buy. Tweens fall prey to all manner of fads, from fashion and accessories to friends and even food — all of which means they can and are being exploited.
What to Expect
Unfortunately for you, a tween's pester power grows smarter with age. They use more subtle, devious, and beguiling tactics than previously, often designed to catch you off-guard. In a big step from tantrums and whining, 8 year olds begin to use reason and arguments comfortably and skillfully — if not manipulatively — often echoing your tactics, as in, "Give me one good reason I can't have it!" By the time your child is 10, his arguments are likely to be more personalized and less related to what everybody else has. He will by now realize that one parent rather than the other will have the softer touch on different requests, pitting one against the other. Eleven and 12 year olds use their greater cognitive powers and understanding to become even more sophisticated.
They will play on your guilt ("You're sooo mean"; "But you just got a new outfit!"), ask for things when friends are present to embarrass you into agreeing, or catch you on an evening when you're too tired to fight. They're also more likely to press your positive buttons and appeal to your dreams for them — "But I thought you'd really like me to . . . ." Tweens become much tougher adversaries when it comes to getting what they want from you.
How to Respond
Becoming wise to your tween's likely line of attack is a first step toward avoiding being tricked into giving in and later regretting it, but you may prefer a stronger defense. To the "Oh, please!" plea, which sounds polite but can in fact be pressurized nagging, you might comment, "Thanks for asking so nicely, but the real issue is, is it a sensible thing to spend money on? How important is it to you, and can you tell me why?" If your tween says, "But I really, really want — I need — it," she is warning you, perhaps threatening, that she'll be utterly devastated should you refuse. Most parents hate to disappoint, but she'll be stronger when she sees that doing without is not the end of the world. It is surprising how often that "must-have now" item fades from view after a short time.
"I'm the only one in the class who hasn't . . ." is another typical plea. If you're certain you're not out of step with current trends, yet you remain unconvinced, consider what could really lie behind it: Is it his wider acceptability to the peer group or merely a temporary dent in his pride? A compromise might settle him, but the most important lesson here is that we are all individuals and "everybody" won't always provide the best way forward.
Sometimes a child will use the emotional blackmail ploy and withdraw his love when turned down by going sullen or rushing out of the room, yelling, "I hate you!" But you can't buy peace, and it won't help. Just stand firm and act unaffected: It will help him in his flights of fancy if you remain stable and calm. "You're cheap!" is the full-on guilt-trip ploy. But "cheapness" shouldn't be the issue. Instead, buying decisions should be made on their merits.
Stay in Charge
Acknowledge the power you have as the adult and parent, with age and experience on your side, as well as being holder of the purse strings! Children are brilliant at "trying out" different emotions and are often less upset than they seem. Feel okay about saying no. Giving in all the time does far more long-term harm than well-founded and sensible refusals. If the issue at stake is not so important, use it to change expectations and habits. Use clear language, not floppy phrases such as "I think" or "perhaps," and make it clear you're not rejecting her just because you reject her request.
Establish an allowance. This can defuse pester power and help to teach the value of money. Instead of nagging for things incessantly, your tween can buy certain cheaper items on his own. An allowance also shows that you accept his growing independence.
Finally, explain how marketing works and how children can be exploited. Giving your child some insight and information will help him to see through the equally powerful ploys of companies.