Family Dynamics - Expected Generosity and the Art of Saying “No” for Teens - The Private Bank

In this update:

  • Children of wealth can find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being expected to pay for their friends’ activities. Finding it difficult to say “no” can come from feeling guilty about being from a family with financial resources or simply desiring to fit in.
  • It is important that parents coach and prepare their children to handle these situations without disrupting friendships.

“I’m sick and tired of my friends thinking that because my parents have a successful business that I should pay every time I go to lunch with them. I like going out with my friends, but how do I tell them that I’m not going to keep paying for everything?”

This sentiment is all too common among young people who grow up in a family that has been financially successful. It is not unusual for friends of wealthy kids to attend sporting events, travel with them on private aircrafts, or even accompany them on vacations. The pattern of “expected generosity” has become problematic for many teens and college-age kids and takes away the fun of just wanting to do something nice for a friend occasionally. Some struggle to know who their real friends are because they worry about people hanging around them just to take advantage of the “stuff” that they may get. Many have a hard time saying “no” when they are asked to pay for things because they feel guilty about their wealth. So how can we help them?

Be understanding and encourage open communication

It is important that you, as a parent, understand the pressures your children face. It is also crucial to realize that when kids are young they are still learning how to develop healthy relationships. Most kids want to be liked and to have friends. They may seek to be part of a certain group of friends and, in doing so, may feel pressure to do what it takes to be accepted. This may or may not be a conscious decision, but it could be one way that kids try to get other kids to be their friend. At an early age, it might be with toys, but as they grow older, these gifts may come in the form of clothes, travel, or eating out at restaurants. A common phrase that they may hear from their friends is: “Your family has money. You can afford to pay for us, right?” It is important to be aware of some of these situations and pressures that children face and be able to talk to them openly about what a healthy friendship looks like for them.

Practice situational conversations

Some parents assume that children know how to manage these situations where they feel obligated to “pick up the tab” for their friends. This is a mistake! It is crucial to practice situational conversations with children and give them the language and strategy to help manage these uncomfortable moments.

For example, let’s say your son is out with a few of his friends and the dinner bill shows up. No one is quick to speak up about separate checks, so your son feels obligated to say, “Hey guys, I’ll get it this time.” This may make your son feel good about doing something nice for his friends, but it also may become a pattern that makes him resent his friends and feel like he’s being taken advantage of.

One tactic for helping to equip your child is to have them live within a budget. If they know what their budget is and understand there isn’t a blank check for all of their needs, they will most likely be more direct with friends about how they approach these situations. For example, parents may coach their children to handle situations like these by saying, “Yeah, my parents have money, but that’s not mine. I have to use my own money.” Every family can develop their own stories or strategies to help kids address these issues.

Establish expectations

Finally, the most important strategy you can help kids learn is to establish expectations. Encourage them to think ahead and anticipate how to deal with these awkward situations. In the example of eating out, encourage them to talk openly with their friends about how much they are looking to spend on dinner. When these expectations are laid out in advance, some of these challenging interactions can be avoided.

Author: David Specht, National Development Manager for Family Dynamics