Parenting in a Tough Economy


To: All News Media
From: Joe McElroy, 630-355-3151
RE: Parenting In Tough Economy

It’s tough out there.

Unemployment is still high, home values are low, and many people are underemployed.

Meanwhile, Johnny and Susie still need shoes, which is fine. But they also think they need designer clothes, computers that once would have made NASA scientists drool with envy, and new cars for their 16th birthdays.

“We’ve created an entitlement generation,” says Jeff Larson, who heads Dunham Counseling Center, which has offices in Naperville and St. Charles. “Our kids have learned to expect too much, to get things without having to earn them.”

Keeping up with the Joneses is nothing new in our society, but today’s parents also feel competition from television shows like “Cribs,” and “It’s All About the Dress,” which take conspicuous consumption to new heights. Weddings often cost north of $40,000, and a recent New York Post article detailed the growing popularity of $1 million bar mitzvahs.

This sort of popular culture contributes to what Larson calls, “a sort of Wall Street mentality that says it’s OK to take as much as you want whenever you want from whoever you want.”

However, there is hope. In the spirit of never letting a crisis go to waste, Larson says, “The Great Recession provides us an opportunity to pull back from all that. If the parents income is down, parents have a reason to say no.”

“These times are good for teaching kids that they know to know how to save money,” said Larson, a licensed clinical social worker who says many young adults today, “expect to make $100,000 on their first job after get out of school. Expectations
like that are not good for kids.”

One of Larson’s colleagues at Dunham, Jeff Lucas, agrees that tough times provide an opportunity. “When everything’s going along great, there’s not much motivation to change,” said Lucas, a licensed clinical professional counselor.

“But when adversity hits we can refine or change ourselves, hopefully learning not to get lost in materialism.”

Before he became a social worker, Larson worked in the corporate world for many years and is an owner in two family-owned businesses. He believes parents can learn from the business model.

“Parents want to make their kids happy, but it’s best to be businesslike about consequences and not get pulled into emotional arguments,” when dealing with tough issues like substance abuse, academic problems, entitlement or disrespect toward parents and other authority figures.

Just as employers need to their expectations clear, so must parents. “Be direct, upfront about what behavior you expect and rewards or consequences,” he said. “Our kids are very good at pushing us around. It’s just easier to give in than to make our kids feel bad.”

Jeff Lucas encourages parents to “strike a balance between discipline and love, with love providing the undercurrent for the relationship. Discipline is a form of love.”

So is attention, and Lucas warns that parents should not let job problems or other issues keep them from paying attention to their children. He encourages parents to spend some time giving their children their “undivided attention” every day, even if it’s just for fife or 10 minutes.

“At the end of the day is a good time to do this,” Lucas said. “This validates the child’s feelings and helps them understand they are that they are worthwhile, which leads to greater self-confidence.”

For more information, contact Jeff Larson at Dunham Counseling, 630-355-8410 or


Caption info: Two head shots, Jeff Larson (without tie); and Jeff Lucas (with tie) both from Dunham Counseling Center

Sidebar: Tips for parents when the going gets tough

  • Pick your battles carefully. Don’t allow abuse, but know when not to take the bait. Sometimes, when a child says something provocative, the best response is to ignore it or laugh it off.
  • Enough, already. However, if your child becomes obnoxious or abusive, cut off communication. Turn around and walk away. If and when the kid takes responsibility for his or her behavior, then the conversation can start again.
  • Truth and consequences. You can’t make a horse drink the water, but you can make the horse thirsty. Enforcing consequences helps maintain values. The consequence makes the “horse,” aka your child, thirsty, so next time they will drink the water.
  • “All you need is love.” Not. “Some parents think if they love their kids then everything else will work out,” says Larson. “But there is a difference between/friendship and parenting. Our jobs as parents are to raise productive and caring members of society.”


Comments are closed.