Teaching Children about Class Differences

Topic suggested by L – Mémé expansion

Many of our political conversations on the other thread focus on the fact of economic, social or intellectual differences between people, whether these should be ameliorated in some way,  and if so, who should bear the cost.

Do you teach your kids about privilege, haves and have-nots, and other differences between people?    Do you have formal conversations with them on these topics,  let it come up organically, rely on the school programming, or participate as a family in hands on activities?     Or do you think they should be sheltered?    Do you find a need to counteract messages they receive from the media or from their local environment?


51 thoughts on “Teaching Children about Class Differences

  1. It comes up naturally with us given the demographics of the kids’ school. The kids are well aware that we are more well-off than most of their friends. And they are well aware that they have a bit more cognitive ability than a lot of their classmates.

  2. It comes up organically, particularly as the kids became high school age and older. They’ve had the chance to interact closely with more have-nots as they become older. It’s been interesting to see how they view these issues, and where we have different opinions on solutions. In hindsight I don’t know how much they would have benefited from formal lessons when they were younger.

  3. That’s part of the reason I like our neighborhood — it is at least a little less homogeneous than many, although even here the sub-neighborhoods tend to be racially divided. DS, who is currently going to the poorer school, is completely oblivious; he’s an introvert and not particularly socially attuned and really into whatever he’s into, so he’ll bike or play computer games or whatever with whoever wants to play with him and has never once mentioned whose house is nicer*, who has better toys, etc. DD, OTOH, has been all over this since she was younger than him, so we have had many, many conversations about how our lifestyle is not normal, that even I didn’t grow up this way, etc.; her teen class at the synagogue also talks a lot about this kind of stuff. She is also very politically aware and very left-leaning — I think she has that same innate sense of fairness that I have — and is very concerned about income inequality and the like.

    Honestly, it’s pretty hard for me to walk that line, as I am uncomfortable with my own privilege and highly conscious of how easily none of it might have come to be; and yet at the same time I am proud of how hard I worked and the good choices I have made to get here. It is a complex subject with complex feelings, and so not, I think, a lesson that can be imparted via a day at the homeless shelter. So we tend to talk about it as things come up.

    And I have never felt the need to shelter my kids from any media messages. They’re already dealing with those messages whether I like it or not, so better to talk about them overtly and let them know when I disagree.

    *He does know that our car is significantly nicer and so plans to get a good-paying job so he can afford one himself. I applaud this kind of reasoning. ;-)

  4. We talk a lot about different social issues. We have been volunteering at a food pantry. There are two sides, you can stock pantry shelves or you can volunteer on days they give out food. Seeing both sides was very useful to my kids. They got to see how very basic the food that is handed out is and they got to see families in need. They also get to see how people with mental and physical challenges are given a role and useful tasks to do by the food pantry.
    The kids go to a religious school so, volunteering and social service are built into the school year. One can be cynical, but I do think volunteering in the local area does take you out of your bubble and you get to see different sides to the community around you.

  5. We don’t watch TV or have much exposure to people from different social classes so the topic doesn’t come up often. Our neighborhood is fairly affordable so not everyone has professional parents. We talk about jobs that require 4 year college degrees (engineer, teacher) and jobs that don’t (technician, electrician, mechanic.) We participated in preparing boxes for Feed My Starving Children a couple years ago, which ships food to needy children overseas.

    We have a significant homeless population. Most of them struggle with addiction and/or mental illness and I choose to avoid exposing my kids to that as much as possible. DS1 has brought it up and we’ve talked about how in order to have an apartment or house, you have to pay rent, and for that, you have to have money from a job, and homeless people can’t/won’t do what it takes to hold a job. DH and the boys cleaned off our elderly neighbor’s roof this past weekend and put moss killer on it and we do that to help our neighbor because she is too old to get on her roof. I wouldn’t consider her a “have not” though.

  6. We talk about this a lot because DD seemed to have a warped sense of what “everyone” has vs reality.

    She seems to be getting it now that she’s older and understands more about what things cost.

    School helps too because she is finally reading more and doing research. For example. She had to write an essay for school about why people are starving in Venezuela. I think it was eye opening for her.

    I received great advice on the Totebag years ago. I never say we can’t afford unless it’s true. I explain why we won’t buy something or do something vs. hiding behind we can’t afford.

  7. My son has a bit of an advantage in this, seeing as he is black.

    Not to inform your kids about class is an incredible expression of priceless—the “have-not” kids already know about it.

  8. I was super clueless about this growing up, so I have really made an effort to talk with our kids about it. DH and I grew up with very different socioeconomic status, so we also bring up some stories and comparisons that way. Like Denver Dad, our kids go to schools with mixed demographics. They have friends who are recipients of the field trip donations we make. I have also been really impressed with topics they cover at school that we certainly never discussed when I was their age – things like voter suppression and prison demographics. Younger DD started in the GT program this year, where she is bused to the “rich neighborhood” middle school. I’ll be interested to see her take on how this school is different from her past schools.

    A couple of anecdotes:
    – Older DD had math unit last year that dealt with income, taxes, insurance, etc – basically one of those “intro to the real world” deals. We do our budget on Mint, so I logged in and showed her that, along with the line items that come out of DH’s paycheck before it even hits the bank. She was shocked at how much money goes out on the first of the month.
    – A few years ago, we paid cash for our minivan. We told the kids how much it cost – showed them the check from the credit union, talked about how we saved up for it. A friend’s mom came to pick up the friend in what was probably a $1000 beater. She complimented us on the new van, and one of our girls said, “Yeah, it cost $30,000!” We then got to have a discussion about when you talk about money and when you don’t…..

  9. I asked my oldest recently where she thought our income. She thought of 100 average Americans, we were richer than about 20. This might actually be true for our neighborhood (we are one of the few houses where both parents “have” to work). We also have relatively crappy cars and clothes. I’ve tried to increase the conversation about money and what is “normal” and what choices we make.

  10. We then got to have a discussion about when you talk about money and when you don’t…..

    This brings up a good question. Why are Americans so reluctant to talk about money?

  11. My area is extremely diverse, so discussions about economic differences come up organically. The kids know that we are better off than many of their classmates and that there are many people who are much wealthier than we are. One part of the conversation that we have is that declasse to flaunt wealth. In part because that can make others feel bad, also because doing that in front of someone else who is really wealthy makes you look like an idiot. Also, we don’t need anyone else knowing what we have.

  12. We talk about this quite a bit. The discussions that seem to hit home most for the kids are the discussions that stem from DH’s descriptions of what goes on in his school. (The district where he teaches has a lot more economic diversity than our own district.) For example, whenever our kids outgrow outerwear or boots, DH brings those items to school, because some of his school kids don’t have adequate gear for cold and/or wet conditions. DH always has extra snacks on hand, because some kids routinely show up for school without food. Every year there are some kids with really troubled home lives (e.g. a parent in prison). I’m still not sure our kids really understand how good they’ve got things, but reminding them of the realities that other local kids deal with seems to make something of an impression on them.

  13. We were just talking the other night about how we should respond if the kids ask if we’re rich. (The kids at school say we are after they see L’Abbey) We thought we should touch on (1) we worked really hard in school and so (2) now BOTH have good jobs, and (3) saved a lot of money when we were younger rather than spending it all. I don’t know if they’d understand the real estate arbitrage of moving from a more expensive area to a less expensive one, but we could try that too. Our new town has more economic diversity than the last place, so they do see some of it in school.

    We don’t volunteer and sometimes I wonder if we should, but then I think of all the Totebag disparaging of the kids volunteering just to put something on the resume and that college interviewers can see right through that, so…

  14. I don’t know if they’d understand the real estate arbitrage of moving from a more expensive area to a less expensive one, but we could try that too.

    I should think most kids would understand “Location, location, location.” Suppose you could buy a house right next to Disney World (or pick something else that appeals to the kids) v. buying a house where it’s cold all the time and there’s nowhere interesting to go.

  15. L, we had similar issues when moving to a more affordable area. The boys didn’t like having a bigger house than their classmates — they wanted to be “average” in northern VA again. They finally came up with “our parents are rich but we aren’t.”

  16. Something I can say only here (or with DW). Eventually kids grow up and you get to have real live adult conversations with them.

    So I got an email from DS1, (my investor/saver/financially aware kid. He may not be cut out for book learning, but he’ll do fine):

    Should I put a sell order in on (stock*) at 17.5? if it falls that far I gotta cut my losses. How do I do that?
    (* Stock was purchased for him by grandparents when he was born. Now enough for a downpayment on a house.)

    1. You’ll generate a large capital gain if you do that. Yes, taxed at capital gains rates (10-15%), so not a big hit, but be aware.
    2. Also, the political/emotional landmine of dealing with (grandfather, who is on the board of this publicly traded company) being upset at you doing that, but not really telling you, instead telling Mom, who will then tell you (and me), etc, etc, etc. (Fred comment — the classic intra familial passive aggressive approach) Translation: I think it’d be good to give both of them a heads up if you do it vs them finding out on their own. (grandfather), of course, will say it’ll come back, just a blip, wait till the company merges with another, gets taken private by a hedge fund, etc.
    3. Me, absent concerns re #2, I would make the sale. And you don’t have to sell it all. I know you’ve been talking about buying a place, let’s just say in the next 2-4 yrs. For $$ you may want to access as soon as 3yrs, more appropriate places to stash it would be (least risky to most risky, but still not very risky): Bank CDs, money market accts, short- or ultra short- bond funds, individual bonds.
    As they say in the advertisements: “…this is not a recommendation to buy or sell securities…”
    4. The structure of the order is:
    “I want to put in a stop-loss order at $17.50/share for (all shares/or a specific number of shares)”.
    Then you have to tell them it’s “good til canceled” (otherwise it’s only good for the day). GTC usually means the end of the current month or maybe 30 days; you’d have to confirm with them how (broker) does it.
    5. or you could ask about buying put options on the stock (the right to sell the stock at a specified price). If you buy ’em at $18 and the stock goes to $17.50, you make $0.50/share less transaction costs. It’s a legit insurance policy. They’ll say the puts don’t exist; the stock is too thinly traded, but you’ll look good/savvy for asking.

  17. Fred, is your DS’ stock held by a full-service brokerage?

    If he’s going to sell, he might consider opening an account somewhere with lower commission, and transfer the stock there before selling.

    Would his GP be more accepting of the sale if DS tells him it’s being made because he plans to use the proceeds to buy a place?

    ITA about not having to sell all at once.

  18. Finn:

    – Yes
    – Agree; that’d be another landmine and I don’t think the transaction costs are material
    – Perhaps. Taking risk off the table is a rational move, but (grandfather) is looking at it entrepreneurially: I started this thing for you, I’ll know when it’s time to sell and I’ll tell you.

  19. drift…

    I have to open an account on an online records system for work, and have to answer some security questions.

    One question: What was your childhood phone number including area code?

    Umm, when I was a small kid, our phone number had 4 digits. If we wanted to make a long-distance call, we dialed 0 and got the operator and told her (I think all the operators were female) the island and the number we wanted to reach.

  20. Both our kids had a diverse enough friend group by middle school that the discussion came up naturally. DD has a friend at one point who lived in a trailer and whose mom worked cleaning houses. I noticed during that time that DD put a lot more effort into the “pre-clean” for her space. She tried to get that friend to do dance team with her, without understanding that the cost was prohibitive.

    DS saw his high school friends complain about how late they were up doing homework because they had to work in the family business or take care of younger siblings. But they also gave him a hard time about his plain Nike shoes, because they apparently had whatever the trendy $150 shoes were (which appalled DS). With both kids we talked about privilege in the context of their unpaid college internships. They got a leg up on others because we could afford to provide them spending money, and how it’s really unfair to their friends who have to work at a job that pays.

    Our extended family provided fodder for conversation from when they were little, with the 30-something nephew and his girlfriend living on a blow-up mattress in MIL’s living room. My kids saw how those without high school diplomas really struggle, and that some part of struggling can be a function of bad choices. All of the families have larger flat screens than we do, and when we were helping pay for diabetes medicine for MIL, not a single adult in that house ever ran out of cigarettes.

    On the flip side, we’ve tried to clarify the notion of rich. My parents live a comfortable life in a low cost of living area, but more than that have always been practical. They would spend money on travel, but do not yet have a flat screen because there’s nothing wrong with the current TV. I told my kids how much money they have so they could see that being a millionaire does not mean you live like they do on MTV Cribs. We won’t ever approach what they view as “rich”. It just means that you can retire someday and afford to live in The Villages.

  21. Finn – I get what you’re saying.

    For me, sometimes the questions offered have no bearing on my life. Or maybe only one does. So I have started answering those questions any way I wanted. I just have to remember the answers.

    Mother’s maiden name: Raiders
    Person you first kissed: XPR477
    Favorite color: Carbonara

    The computer doesn’t know (although I know…they’ll want a 3-digit # for an area code)

  22. I was guessing that whoever wrote those security questions has no clue that there are people who will be using that system that were kids before there were area codes.

    That person probably also has no clue about party lines.

  23. “the trendy $150 shoes were (which appalled DS)”

    Parenting success!!! Your kid is definitely a totebagger in the making.

    “do not yet have a flat screen because there’s nothing wrong with the current TV.”

    Do they also not have cable? Our cable company has rendered our old CRT TVs largely useless by going all digital and not having composite video outputs on their boxes.

    I’m guessing if they watch off the air channels using one of the boxes that were available during the transition from analog to digital, their old TVs are still usable, and will be for a while.

  24. they apparently had whatever the trendy $150 shoes were (which appalled DS).

    If they are never, ever, under any circumstances, going to be able to pay for college or subsidise an unpaid internship, maybe the shoes are the best they can do.

  25. Finn, that was my same first thought, although he is just practical by nature. I think he was appalled that $150 shoes exist. His shopping goes like this:
    DS: I need new shoes. These have holes in the soles.
    Me: ok, want to go to the mall?
    DS: can’t you just go online and order me the same thing?
    He doesn’t know what’s in style or what things cost. For his internship this summer he just asked me to order him enough work appropriate shirts to get through a week. It’s so different from my DD.

    And most of his high school friends were children of immigrants. They’re going to college, mostly living at home, and possibly not wasting the same money on video games that DD is. They just prioritize different things. His reaction made me laugh, though. He wasn’t fazed at all that they were making fun of his shoes, he just wanted me to promise to never spend $150 on shoes for him.

  26. Becky, sounds like your DS is from the Zuckerberg school of fashion.

    “He wasn’t fazed at all that they were making fun of his shoes,”

    A lot of it depends on how they were teasing him. I think most HS kids would rather have a group of friends who tease each other without crossing any lines, than not getting teased at all.

  27. Sigh. I knew yesterday’s update was too soon. DD came home from club today asking for a therapist to help her manage the stress of the situation (!!! Talk about mom hot button!!!). Nothing overt from Queen Bee, but still not speaking, and DD is afraid to disagree with anything or face a bullying complaint, etc.

    But what really set her off was that the advisor apparently set the teams, and she is on a team with one friend and the rest newbies — so, basically, Queen Bee got the people she asked for on her team, the second team has several of DD’s friends and the rest of the returning kids, and DD got one token friend and the rest of the newbies. This is, of course, completely different from what the adviser told me was going to happen in our little come-to-Jesus meeting awhile back (two teams, kids get to ID who they want to be with, he will arrange teams so friends are together as much as possible), so I have already emailed him with a polite “wtf???” At this point, I am still being Good Laura, asking for explanations/help, pointing out what it looks like but in a soft/subtle way, etc — basically, playing it very strategically to maximize the chance he wants to help me. And I cc’d the counselor who was at our first meeting — the one who said “maybe we need to find something nice to do for Laura’s DD” — because it will be very, very clear to her that he did not do what he told me he would do, and I want her talking to him and saying, “uhhhh, dude, better fix this. . . .”

    But I think I know what his explanation is going to be. It will go something like this: the kids wrote down who they wanted to be on a team with. But too many people didn’t want to work with Queen Bee. We couldn’t put them all on one team, because then QB’s team wouldn’t be competitive, so we decided to make three teams and divide up the non-QB players between the two, and DD got placed with XYZ because ABC. IOW: the #1 most important criterion is STILL “QB must never be disadvantaged under any circumstances — even when she earned it her damn self, and even when that requires F’ing over Laura’s DD again.”

    And at that point — if that is what happens — then Bad Laura will be making an appearance, reading him the riot act, and pulling DD from the club entirely. At extremely high volume and with very bad language.

    And I also told DD tonight, in no uncertain terms, that she is never to be afraid to express her opinion politely to QB, E.V.E.R., and that if anything comes of it, I have her back 100% and will take care of it no matter what, because I absolutely refuse to see her intimidated into silence. Grrrrrrrrr.

  28. LfB – hang in there. With all rounds of negotiations, it will soon be May and time for your DD to move on to bigger and better things. Also, this is a glimpse of real life, getting through a project while dealing with the people on it.

  29. LFB — I’m so sorry your DD is going through this, but based on your stories I believe this is only a temporary setback for her. Only you know your DD and this situation, but it sounds as if after you speak your peace she may want to move on from this club since it’s caused so much stress. Good luck.

  30. Lab, I’m sorry. That totally sucks. I agree with some older comments that there is something going on in the background with him and QB and/or her family.

  31. Laura. Very gently…there comes a time to cut your losses. I know that injustice is enraging, and when it affects your own child, you want to kill the perp. But you and your DD are losing a lot of sleep over this, and sometimes walking away is a useful skill to cultivate.

    Also, I wonder if your rage and DD’s sorrow and frustration aren’t feeding each other a bit? Sometimes you want your mom to be a non-anxious presence rather than an avenging angel.

    Just tossing it out there. You can feel free to tear me a new one. I can take it.

  32. Laura – I’m sorry you’re (all the LfB family, because I know how this goes) going thru this.

  33. @Rocky: don’t worry, no offense. I’m actually pretty proud of my Parenting Disassociation Skills — when she’s all worked up, I’m very calm and just hold her and empathize about how hard it is etc. etc. etc.* And then I go to bed, and that’s when *my* anxiety comes out, and I get all worked up and angry and can’t sleep and come post here. ;-) So I don’t think she is feeding off of me; I think she just happened to inherit that same part of my personality.

    And, yeah, I told her last night: just quit. This is supposed to be fun. If it is causing this much stress, walk away — you have plenty of other fun things to do. That’s when she burst into tears, because she wants to do it so much. But if this doesn’t resolve for good soon, I am playing my Mom Card and telling her she is done with the club, period, no arguments.

    *She has been volatile since she was teeny, and I learned when she was about 3 that she completely fed on my emotions, that she could frequently sense them before I could, and that the only way to stop the death spiral was for me to become extra calm and quiet. So when she gets upset, it’s now almost automatic for me to go into “calm/soothing” mode — and now that she’s older, with some added reassurance that I’ve got her back if she needs me.

  34. And thanks, guys. Feels better to at least have someplace to vent myself — especially given that DH doesn’t do emotions well. ;-)

  35. @ LfB, I’m with RMS on this one. I think I said last time – this juice is not worth the squeeze. Emotional energy is a finite resource, and it sounds like this is using up too much. I wouldn’t advise a “fine, I’m taking my ball and going home” type of exit, but I would advise that she suddenly become very, very busy with other activities/efforts, and simply let this one suffer from a little benign neglect.

  36. LfB, maybe before you go further, it might be useful to decide what victory looks like and is victory is a feasible possibility.

  37. @Cassandra: that she is happy with her team. If she is happy with the team, the rest will fall into place, because the teams are independent of each other, and we can manage QB as long as she doesn’t have direct power over DD (that’s a useful life skill on its own). I imagine I’ll find out whether he is willing to budge on Monday; DD is not the only friend who was upset and wanting to quit, so I suspect the advisor is hearing it from all sides today.

    I am also going to get her with a therapist regardless for coping skills/anxiety management.

  38. LfB – I’m sorry to hear this latest update. The counselor seems weak and young – and someone who causes more harm by trying to placate QB. How frustrating. And it doesn’t seem at all fair that all the newbies are concentrated on one team.

  39. And at that point — if that is what happens — then Bad Laura will be making an appearance, reading him the riot act, and pulling DD from the club entirely.

    Yes. Do that. I mean, skip the bad language and riot act in favor of the “I’m disappointed that [blah blah didn’t keep to agreed upon conditions] and under the circumstances [blah blah daughter’s already full schedule this is a distraction so bye Felicia] Best wishes for a successful year etc [i.e. good luck getting the newbie team up to speed without daughter’s leadership that you obviously took for granted].” Possibly she should warn her one friend that is also on the newbie team. But neither of you needs this stress and she’s going to be constantly feeling left out even if she continues in the club since all her friends but one are on the other team. Sometimes you need to leave a situation to fully grasp how toxic it was.

  40. “Best wishes for a successful year etc [i.e. good luck getting the newbie team up to speed without daughter’s leadership that you obviously took for granted].””

    Not to mention, without LfB’s financial contribution to the club.

    But before that, perhaps it’s worth a shot to put try and put that history aside, and just play the hand she’s been dealt, i.e., just work with the team she’s been assigned and try to have fun working with them, and not be concerned about what the other teams are doing.

    Oh, and you might consider withholding any future financial contributions pending how things play out.

  41. Although I do have some concern about making it a “Mom insists I drop this” deal if she really doesn’t want to drop it — she’s certainly old enough to be making her own decisions on this kind of thing. But if it’s a case where she’s kind of frustrated with the whole thing but doesn’t see a good resolution and having Mom available to be the bad guy makes it easier for her, that can work. “Sorry, my mom is insisting I drop because she thinks it’ll be too much of a distraction from my classes” “But doesn’t she know you did fine last year?” “Yeah, but because I’m on the team with all the new kids she’s convinced I’ll end up having to basically do all the work . . . I know, ridiculous, right? But you know what she’s like.”

  42. Also, I honestly would not be shocked if it turns out there was an inappropriate incident at some time in the past between counselor and Queen Bee.

  43. I would advise that she suddenly become very, very busy with other activities/efforts, and simply let this one suffer from a little benign neglect.

    If she’s ok with being associated with a possibly crap project that could work . . . if, otoh, she’s going to feel like she has to pour herself into it and carry the team because their project reflects on her, that may not be a realistic approach.

  44. HM, junior year in high school was my last year of debate due to an inappropriate incident between the debate coach and another debater. LfB’s daughter’s disappointment about how she is treated mirrored my own, and I thought it was only my personal history that made me wonder why counselor favors Queen Bee.

  45. We know he’s a young guy, we know Queen Bee is ambitious (I need this presidency!) and manipulative . . . it happens. And it seems like it explains what’s going on better then “he’s just so naive!”

  46. HM. I tend to agree with your interpretation. Although incompetence is widespread, at some point it is not sufficient as an explanation.

  47. The advisors objective is without a doubt to drive LfBs DD from the club so that QB thrives. There doesn’t have to the slightest bit of actual impropriety involved. Get her out now for her sake. I would stop being Mom Advocare become Mom protectir. No club should drive a child to therapy.

  48. The objective identified by LfB is for her DD to be happy with her team, which is why I suggest she give that a shot first.

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