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Help! My kid's a shopaholic

When my teenager announced that he was spending Black Friday at a mall with a friend, I wasn't happy.

"Don't tell me you've bought into the shopping mentality!" I said (or maybe shrieked).

"Buy, buy, buy. Spend, spend, spend!" I added (or maybe ranted). "That's all our culture wants you to do. You've been brainwashed!"

I then reminded myself of my parenting pledge to lecture less, but state my values more.

"I object to materialism," I said softly and calmly. "I object to a culture that says you can never have enough stuff. I object to a mindset that encourages you to go out and spend money on things you don't need and can't afford."

Unfortunately, I couldn't help but add: "You really don't need more clothes. When I was a teenager, I had one pair of jeans for all of high school!"

It was not my proudest moment as a mother. I then embarked on several days of soul-searching. How did my kid get caught up in this mentality? Sure, once in a while, we do a big shopping trip, but generally there is a reason -- a special occasion, start of school, kids outgrew something, clothes look worn or dated. I set a budget, use coupons and make both my teenage son and his younger brother earn and spend their own money on things I object to paying for. Yet somehow I ended up with a mall rat on Black Friday.

On the other hand, I wonder if maybe I am out of touch with what's normal for families in America. Lots of parents take their kids shopping on Black Friday for holiday gifts. And lots of teenagers spend every weekend at the mall. Our family is Jewish, so while we do give presents for Hanukkah, and even exchange a few gifts on Christmas with certain loved ones who celebrate that holiday, it's never been quite as big a deal for us as it is for others, and maybe that's part of why I didn't like the idea of my son getting caught up in the shopping frenzy.

Confused about whether my reaction was appropriate, I asked Jennifer Leigh, an adviser for mothers and teenage girls, for her thoughts. Leigh has a Web site,, and is the author of several books for parents and teenagers, including True Listening and The Secrets Guys Wish You Knew About Love.

"You stated your piece, stated your mind, and then you let him go," she said. "I think that was a good approach. When parents try and force their own ideals down their children's throats, their children end up choking on their parents' dogma."

She said that when we communicate our values, even if our kids don't immediately do things our way, "it's one more dot they can connect in the growing-up process. 'That's mom and dad's dot. I heard it. It's in my brain and now it's there.'"

But Leigh cautioned against lecturing. "The minute you start 'shoulding,' the minute you tell a child they should do something, their psychological defenses come up. Now you're passing judgment. It's one thing to say, 'This is my value system.' It's another to say, 'This is what you should believe.' "

Leigh also had some interesting observations about teens getting caught up in the holiday shopping frenzy that made me see it less as a parenting failure and more as a cultural phenomenon. She even pointed out some positive aspects to it.

"It is the culture," she said. "Every ad on TV is holiday shopping, holiday gift-buying, buy this and that. Unless you're raising an Amish child or you've locked them in the basement, they swim in a sea of consumerism."

Leigh added that on a day off from school, teens hanging out with friends at the mall isn't necessarily a bad thing.

For boys, she said, checking out stores with a pack of friends, hunting for bargains, and shopping for cool clothes is precisely what a modern-day hunter-gatherer does.

For girls, she said, a day of shopping with friends is not just about making purchases. "The way teen girls' brains are wired, they need to be with other girls," Leigh said.

Beth J. Harpaz is the author of 13 Is the New 18.