Do I need to splurge on luxuries for my teen to be a social success?

A recent Open-Mic by Miriam Klein Adelman sparked a lively discussion about the increasing material ‘needs’ of today’s teens, and the resulting conflicts and dilemmas.
The questions raised in this debate are very raw and very real, and relate to anyone involved in raising children in the 21st century — including the children themselves. 
What do you think? Join the conversation below. 


Conversations on Mishpacha.com continue the dialogue on current issues covered in Mishpacha Magazine. The Conversation Host will respond to a selection of comments and points raised by the participants. See our Conversation Guidelines right here. 

Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein |
July 28, 2019
LAST UPDATED 5 years ago

Comments (27)

  1. Avatar

    At the end of the day, we all want normal kids who fit in socially. That doesn’t mean we can’t say no, have standards or budgetary restrictions but when certain styles of clothing are the norm, that’s what they want. Every class and sect has their standard and norm, and for the most part, we conform to that.

  2. Avatar

    Leave it alone. Our kids are in yeshiva/ BY all year, long hours, long days and lots of pressure. Camp is their time and the parents should stop kvetching and filling pages of the magazine with their grievances. If you’re frum, then frum lifestyle is part of it and stop making it a story.

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    M. E.

    I apologize in advance to Mrs. Adelman, and all those who have written in support of the article, if I come off a little harsh.
    I would like to present another perspective. Your daughters’ (and sons’) lives do depend on their clothing, for now. To get the result which we all strive for we need to take a superficial side trip to get there.
    When you say, “I have no idea what they are,” regarding the items that they are asking for, do you realize how condescending that feels to your child? An opportunity to connect is lost. How lucky you are to have a child who reaches out to you and is trying to share what is important to them. You may be trying to set her straight with your “wisdom and value system,” but instead you are creating an abyss where your daughter feels like a bad person for wanting that which is healthy and normal to want, in order to fit in.
    You mention that you are “old school.” Kudos for recognizing that! But if you are reacting in an “old school” way, might that mean that that is not the correct way to handle a situation in today’s day and age?
    You mention that you consult with your married daughters who agree that these items are important, and you dismiss them as well. When someone is trying to be brave and share something that is important to them with a parent, to then be mocked breaks the spirit of a feeling human.
    The sting of rejection a child feels when a request for an expensive or extra item is denied is not because the item wasn’t bought, but because the desire wasn’t understood and respected. If you can’t afford the item, perhaps it would be just as fulfilling to learn about it: “Wow! There really is something special about that, I can see why that would really add a lot to your wardrobe. Sweetie, I love you, and more than anything I wish I could get you three of those T-shirts and that pair of shoes. Right now, I’m gonna get you one T-shirt and wait and see if the shoes go on sale.”
    By taking the time to understand them and respect them, we are hearing what they are saying and we are giving them the emotional space to grow to become adults with solid values.
    Are we ourselves living a lifestyle where we deny ourselves some extras along the way to feel a little better about ourselves? Do we overspend on simchahs, home improvements, and vacations? Who’s to say that those are more important than what our children are asking for in order to be socially successful?
    I struggle to pay the bills and make ends meet like most of our community. Yet my priorities and the choices I make are geared toward supporting that which will help my children succeed. At my son’s bar mitzvah, we got him an expensive suit and hat from a respected store, and served chicken bottoms at the reception. I buy my girls the brand name clothes and shoes they feel they need, while trying to save up for a dining room set.
    Our children are works in progress. They are, for the most part, good, smart, empathetic beings who strive to be better. If we want them to continue in this path, let us treat them with the respect and consideration they deserve.

    1. Avatar
      Yerachmiel Milstein

      This perspective reflects the inescapable reality that if we live in communities, whether by choice or otherwise, and we send our children to mosdos, where certain prevailing material standards and expectations exist, it is quite unrealistic for parents to expect their young charges to buck the prevailing trends. Furthermore, for the many teenagers who have a desperate, psychological/emotional need to “fit in,” not to do so, can leave lingering scars.

      In a utopian world, we would choose to live in communities with like-minded neighbors, who largely share our attitudes and philosophies towards all things material. In the absence of that I recommend that when your otherwise reasonable child demands things you deem to be luxuries, consider carefully whether or not they represent the true norms of their environments before you respond. Oh, and one more thing. Keep davening!

  4. Avatar
    R. R.

    Miriam Klein Adelman mentions that parents are going broke because it’s important that their kids “feel good.” The same line is often used when we’re asked to offset (often luxurious) wedding expenses for kallahs: “A kallah has to feel good.”
    Today’s generation is so vulnerable that we have to compensate by making them feel like “they’re like everyone else.” This weakness is not limited to the Jewish frum community. College students today are described as “snowflakes” — basically referring to the inability to be strong in the face of adversity.
    Unless people can build themselves up to be healthy-minded individuals, something acquired from an early age, we will never be able to solve this plague. And it isn’t limited to money. The fear of being different impacts all of people’s decisions: shidduchim, gifts, what kind of wedding to make, what kind of profession to pursue, the school one sends to, etc.
    We must stop being sheeple! Start to discover who you are, what kind of chinuch you want to give (and perhaps decide not to send to camp and instead invest into a wonderful family vacation, an experience that will be worthwhile and cheaper too, trust me!). All that and more is what makes for healthy and strong individuals.

  5. Avatar

    I do understand that every article is written with a dose of exaggeration. But here are some tips for your wallet:
    Send your 13-year-old daughter to day camp instead of sleepaway camp. Buy shoes at Payless (and doesn’t she already have sneakers?). Buy clothes and accessories in department stores like Kohl’s, etc. It will cost you more like two hundred dollars instead of two thousand.

  6. Avatar
    Confident with Less

    I’m a 20-year-old chassidish lady who isn’t that far removed from being a teen. I never experienced the peer pressure described and, as far as I know, neither did most of my peers. I went to a camp that was considered to have a lot of peer pressure and never did any of us feel a need to bring six pairs of shoes or brand-name clothes. Two fancy sets of linen was definitely not the norm. Actually, cheap shirts from Target, Walmart, or the like were perfectly acceptable and many girls used linen sets that were boyish, outdated, and clearly well worn. Nobody really looked twice and such things never had an effect on a girl’s social status. A girl who was nice, confident, and friendly was well liked and that was that.
    As a matter of fact, my younger sister and her bunkmates had a running joke that their clothes were from SW, Sister’s Wardrobe. Hand-me-downs were the trend!
    It’s clear to me that a girl who’s confident and well adjusted shouldn’t feel such a desperate need for all these things. And a girl who is not should work on her confidence, not her wardrobe.

  7. Avatar

    I couldn’t agree more. I once saw camps as a lavish “gift” I would give my children. Ha! Now it seems as if “the gift of 2,500 dollars of one month of camp” is not enough. Now, it’s a fashion show, a competition, and more of a means to categorize our dear daughters.
    I know someone out there is going to say “Just say No!” but I’d like to preface that outburst with my two cents.
    In some communities, the middle class has become obsolete. For example, 20 years ago people purchased homes in our area for less than 350,000 dollars. Today these same houses can be sold for close to three, four, or even five times that amount.
    It doesn’t take a detective to gather clues that any couple buying a house today where we live must be wealthy, eitherin their own right, or their parents are giving them down payments (and then some). These families are moving in and totally changing the standard of the community. Clothes, shoes, bikes, suits, hats, vacations — are all on display and being observed by our children. This standard has become the new normal.
    I see the shift in attitude. While my older children were happy driving down to Florida in mid-August, my younger children wonder why we can’t fly first class to Israel. My older children were happy bringing their old comfy blankets to camp, while my younger kids are eyeing new bed sheet and blanket sets. My older kids got imitation Crocs — and yes, I too purchased Natives for my younger daughters. My older kids were content with bikes from thrift shops. It took me a long time to cave in before I bought a new bike for my younger son’s school biking trip. But I did. And it was the right thing to do.
    It’s no one’s fault, but it is what it is.
    Of course, there are plenty of no’s when it comes to shopping. Like any responsible parent, I don’t allow my children to get whatever they want. However, I also cannot bury my head in the sand and continuously say no to what has become commonplace.
    I wish there was some solution to this ever-growing conundrum. I can’t fault people for wanting to spend their money the way they see fit, and I also cannot fault my children for just wanting to fit in. I’m trying to balance all this — but somehow I just never feel I’m doing right by anyone.
    We contemplate moving — we know it’s not the same all over — but we are settled here. We didn’t ask for this influx of wealth to be showered around us, but it happened.

  8. Avatar

    There is an undeniable materialism that is sweeping through the frum community with significant force. So much so, that I do not believe that any part of our observant world is entirely immune. Even among subsistence level kollel communities, fashion, style and the Joneses (Schwartzes?) influence none too subtly what we wear, eat and how and where we choose to live. Furthermore, I find it remarkable that young children of all stripes have become prodigies of consumerism, with sage insights into brands and trends.

    True, they are picking up much of their expertise from their peers, but eventually we must admit that we can track this phenomenon right back to our homes; certainly, not all of our homes but enough that the impact is profound.

    In many families even casual conversation around the Shabbos table can include talk about friends’ and neighbors’ over-the-top Pesach vacations, luxury car leases, fancy new clothing, magnificent new homes, etc. Rarely does admiration for someone’s amazing sacrifices, great spiritual growth and extraordinary chesed merit much mention. Whether these seemingly innocuous schmoozes betray a touch or more of envy or not, the fact that wealth and material success is the currency of conversation in our homes stands in contradiction to the higher values we hope to imbue in our youth.

    Clearly, this is troubling many people, as indicated by all these comments, and although I don’t have an easy solution, I do recommend that we, the adults, carefully watch how we talk about the assets and lifestyles of others and consider the messages being conveyed to our children.

    1. Avatar

      Look, we’re in a Frum society where unfortunately there is a lot of focus on the money and luxuries. While the Shabbos table conversations revolving around money, luxuries and the latest fads, I don’t think the issue starts there. I’ll break it down to a couple of points.
      1. The Publications – Frum publications are chock full of ads for all kinds of luxuries from cruises to Tu B’shvat hotels. They also have this weird obsession with wealthy guys who made it in the business world. Why are we always asking 10 questions to rich people? Are they much better than the guy who works hard and makes a living for his family?
      2. The Yeshivos – Every dinner ad features a board of directors and honoree all of whom “made it”. We’re all wondering who’s being honored, and which son is now taking over the mantle. The luxuries by dinners (not just yeshivos) have gotten out of hand from celebrity chefs to the katest fad Choir.
      If our focus as parents and adults is all about money and luxuries, how can we expect differently from our kids? It’s all they hear, it’s what’s being talked about. You’re worried about the peer pressure from the other teens, they’re all in this society because we got them here.
      We can’t possibly make enough money to keep them perfectly satisfied with everything when the rich family in his class goes to overseas for every minor vacation. What we can change is how we talk about and idolize these material pleasures in their presence.

      1. Avatar

        Interesting observation about the ’10 questions’ part of the magazine. Yes, maybe we should be asking 10 questions not to just the richest people. We should ask these questions to people who get satisfaction from their profession. Such as an established Rebbe with good rapport with his Talmidim, or an established neighborhood electrician, or an established architect…. not only would this ‘obsession about money’ be set aside, but people could get honest opinions and honest experiences of what made them successful. Not all our boys should go into ‘business’, but the way it is glamorized it seems like the only career that is worthwhile.

  9. Avatar
    H. G.

    I have a few stories and questions for all of you.
    Back before my son’s Bar Mitzvah, his class went on a biking trip. My son inherited his older brother’s bike. It was a bike originally from a thrift shop. My son refused to go on the trip. Nagging and pleading for him to go on the trip, I thought that HE was being the obstinate one. One day, his classmates stopped by our house a few weeks before the biking trip to grab him before heading out the the local ‘Express’ store. Looking outside at the bikes, I finally knew why my son wanted a new bike. Each of his friends’ bikes were new. Each of those bikes had fancy additions, and gadgets.
    What would you do if you were me?
    I work. A City School Teacher. If you know anything about city teachers, you know that we have off when we have off. There is no vacation when I want it. It is given to me the days I get it. My son’s friends were going away for winter break. To Israel, to Florida, to Los Angeles. What was I supposed to do with my 14 year old son? I did not have vacation. His uncle was going to Florida. He agreed to take my son with him .. tickets and activities are expensive but…
    What would you do if you were me?
    Don’t tell me ‘not everyone is doing it’. My son’s class — his friends — were ‘doing it’.
    My son is not spoiled, but he’s not oblivious either.
    And don’t anyone tell me that many of you don’t go through the same. If it is not camp expenses, or a bike, it’s a Borsolino hat. If not a hat, it’s overextending your finances to get your child into a ‘certain school’ or camp, or your family into a certain bungalow.
    Here’s the corker: Maybe it’s Shidduchim. What have you done, promised, or spent money on that you felt compelled to do to get YOUR daughter married.
    Who is thinking that they are immune to ANY of this peer pressure?
    Maybe you are one of the lucky ones. Maybe you live in a community where all is swell, and everyone is just groovy. Good for you.
    Maybe you really just don’t care. And you’re lucky enough that your children just don’t care either. Good for you.
    As for the teenagers who wrote in: you all sound very mature. I hope as you get older the world does not change you, and you remain rooted in the ideals you so bravely wrote.
    But Life happens. And people change for a reason. And it’s not because they are wimps, or bad parents, or parents that can’t say ‘no’. Life isn’t about YES/NO, BLACK/WHITE. It’s these huge areas of gray that can be confusing and frustrating. And I think that was Mrs. Adelman’s point.
    And so, here we are….Still Sighing at the Cashier

  10. Avatar
    Eliezer Cohen

    My family has been in the clothing business for over 80 years. OK Uniform was started by my zeide in response to the abuse he received for diligently working from Motzaei Shabbos through Sunday night to make up for taking off for Shabbos. He was beaten to within an inch of his life, when union thugs came to his apartment on the Lower East Side and nearly killed him because they did not like that he worked on Sunday.
    The business that he started currently manufactures and sells many styles of school and camp uniforms. There is no question that if camps instituted a required uniform, the savings can be astronomical. I know my wife paid $60 for a hooded sweatshirt that the granddaughters “needed” for camp. The same item “off brand” would sell for $10–15 with the camp emblem.
    The thought that kids need freedom of choice is one of the breaking points of society. With all due respect, children do not need freedom of choice. They need structure. They need guidance. They need to learn life is a quest. They do not need the competition. Children just want to have fun. Girls can personalize their clothes with accessories or different socks, hair bands, etc.
    There’s no need to always have what the outside world says is “in style.” A Jew has their own style: a style of tradition. Not of seeking to conform to the outside world.

  11. Avatar

    While it’s imperative for parents to realize their children’s social realities, and for children to acknowledge their parents’ financial realities, this article offered a good opportunity to remind ourselves as parents that our responsibility is to parent from strength. While sympathizing, validating, and acknowledging our children’s realities, we can affect these realities by carefully modeling for them the values that we hold dear. If we exude a sense of self that is internally driven, and not dependent “on the Schwartzes,” if we demonstrate self-control and hold back from making a purchase that is beyond our means, if we are willing to place the strength of our convictions before our desire to conform, then it is a lot more likely that our children will do the same.
    We can model for our children that the “yesh li kol” of Yaakov Avinu is light years ahead of the “yesh li rav” of Eisav. Eisav is never fully satisfied no matter much as he has; Yaakov is thrilled with whatever he’s been given because “ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu.”
    It’s not our children’s sole responsibility to stop the entitlement. It’s our responsibility as parents to model a lifestyle — in thought, as well as in practice.

    1. Avatar
      Yerachmiel Milstein

      I often think about how the amazing prosperity evident in many parts of our community seemed to have dulled the natural Hakoras Hatov that our holocaust survivor parents had for the smallest necessities and comforts of modern American life. I vividly remember my grandmother, a”h, visiting my first, tiny newlywed apartment in Boro Park over 40 years ago. She made a beeline for the refrigerator, opened the door and said in wonderment, “Boruch Hashem you’ve got what to eat!”

      What is the ratio of time spent in the acquisition of materialism to the time spent appreciating it? It is no small wonder that it’s never enough for many of our children, whether it’s the selection of sweetened breakfast cereals (“there’s nothing to eat!”), the sheer volume of clothing making our closets groan (I’ve got nothing to wear!”) or the hundreds of recreational diversions in homes (“I’ve got nothing to do!”).

      Let’s face it folks. If we as adults don’t spend nearly enough time and effort proactively marveling at our overflowing blessings, from where are our kids supposed to acquire that all important trait? If we model hakaras hatov in our lives and our conversations, then our children will pick up on that just like they pick up on the materialistic nuances so often discussed.

      1. Avatar

        Yes, agreed.
        Let’s not glamorize being raised or schooled by Holocaust Survivors- but there was a modesty with materialism that has been lost along the way.

  12. Avatar
    L. F.

    I must respectfully weigh in on the debate about camp expenses. My family has been in the clothing business for over 80 years. OK Uniform was started by my zeide in response to the abuse he received for diligently working from Motzaei Shabbos through Sunday night to make up for taking off for Shabbos. He was beaten to within an inch of his life, when union thugs came to his apartment on the Lower East Side and nearly killed him because they did not like that he worked on Sunday.
    The business that he started currently manufactures and sells many styles of school and camp uniforms. There is no question that if camps instituted a required uniform, the savings can be astronomical. I know my wife paid $60 for a hooded sweatshirt that the granddaughters “needed” for camp. The same item “off brand” would sell for $10–15 with the camp emblem.
    The thought that kids need freedom of choice is one of the breaking points of society. With all due respect, children do not need freedom of choice. They need structure. They need guidance. They need to learn life is a quest. They do not need the competition. Children just want to have fun. Girls can personalize their clothes with accessories or different socks, hair bands, etc.
    There’s no need to always have what the outside world says is “in style.” A Jew has their own style: a style of tradition. Not of seeking to conform to the outside world.

  13. Avatar
    Yaakov Burg

    After all is said and done, we baruch Hashem sent our kid to camp b’shaah tovah with all the best luxuries and a nosh box worth around 150 dollars and 100 dollars of pocket money. It’s been five long days since we sent our kid away and I’m ashamed to say that this past Friday, my country group text did not stop posting: “going to boys camp soon, packages are welcome”, “going to girls camp later, packages are welcome.” Drive up to camp on Friday afternoon, and you’ll see that the parking lots are full of cars coming to bring stuff to the children.
    We paid a hefty price for our kids to be in camp and they get food there; why are we doing this? It’s healthy to give kids a little space. It’s healthy for kids to manage without Mommy’s kugel on Friday. It’s healthy for them to figure out how to get their laundry washed every week without us.
    We are creating damaged products. How can these kids get married and start giving to their partner and children if all their lives, all they did is take?

  14. Avatar

    While many of these points are valid, I think people are missing the real issue.
    I don’t believe this issue has anything to do with girls going to camp. It’s about people not being able to be realistic and say Baruch Hashem, I earn X and therefore it makes sense that we spend accordingly. Not like our neighbor, sister, cousins or even parents.
    Unfortunately there are some of us who are responsible and really spend within our budgets whose children are still demanding more than their parents have. However, to all fellow parents who are having it hard, please consider whether everything you are spending really fits into your budget comfortably. If your children see that you’re always careful to live within your means, at least there’s a chance that they will have realistic expectations.
    I am not advocating being stingy. According to the Torah, a person can enjoy what Hashem has blessed him with. By the same token, however, Chazal are very clear about people not spending what they can’t comfortably afford.

  15. Avatar

    As a child who grew up in a home similar to Mindy’s, and now as a mother of a growing family, I feel qualified to put in my two cents on the topic: kids cost money.
    I know, earth shattering. But we have to realize that tuition did not start becoming expensive when your oldest started school, nor did the prices of shampoo suddenly go up when she became a tween. And yes, in case it was not clear, shirts, skirts, socks and shoes are necessities.
    If you feel your child’s request is excessive, tell her so. Your daughter should not feel like a burden. If her necessities are provided for properly, it will not be a constant struggle when she asks for the perceived extras.

  16. Avatar
    Baila Vorhand

    This is an age-old problem that is getting worse in many circles, and is not the fault of stores.
    As human beings, we have many layers and sublayers: physical, emotional-social, idealistic. However, our essence, who a person really is, is our neshama. As long as we live on the outer layers, we will solve one problem, but bump into the next. However, if we can get ourselves, our children, and our communities to shift our sense of self inward — to become more spiritual, inner-oriented people — these types of problems will slowly fade. Our chinuch cannot be focused on behavior, compliance, and details; it has to focus on feeding and developing the neshamah.
    A curriculum heavy on machshavah and hashkafah, as well as real-life practical solutions to implementation, can shift the tide. Our young (and not so young) people are starving for ideas on how to connect to Hashem through tefillah, how to love Him as well as our fellow Jews, how to exercising bechirah, be a giver, and grateful, etc.
    You cannot start at 13, and it’s very hard to do it alone. It will take many educators and parents to change the way we approach our own spiritual development as well as that of our children’s and students’ spiritual development to affect real change on a communal level.

  17. Avatar

    I find all these comments well-articulated and as a parent and grandparent all too easy with which to identify. In fact, I’d be lying if I said that I had a clear parenting or chinuch approach that would obviate or solve this frustrating conundrum. But, of course, there’s always a “however,” and in this case, more than one, and I hope some of the ideas shared in this discussion can give us all food for thought.

  18. Avatar

    Somebody has to talk about this, about the fact that parents don’t want to parent. Please take responsibility for yourself and your children. Be that parent.
    If you don’t want to or can’t afford to spend on expensive T-shirts, have an honest conversation with your child, explain to them that they can either have two expensive T-shirt’s or ten Old Navy ones instead. When doing so don’t put down others who do have more resources; Hashem gave everyone what they need.
    Once we know and really believe it we can all live a stress-free life.
    You kids will thank you.

  19. Avatar
    Nechama Reich

    Something has gone very wrong in our communities. I think there are two issues at play here. We can’t solve the issue without honestly facing both of these factors.
    The first is the extreme emphasis on conformism. We’ve become such a conformist society that if you’d be looking at our community from the outside, you’d think there is some religious edict for all frum Jews to wear the same colors of the season, styles of the season, and even brand names of the season. Otherwise, how did everyone get the memo that the only acceptable baby clothing this winter was a ribbed pastel two-piece with a matching hat? Or that everyone’s walls must be painted the same shade of greige?
    The other issue is that not only has conformism become our master, the standard we’re all conforming to is ridiculously high. It’s bad enough that we all need to follow the same invisible rule book — but consider that the rules dictate buying 80$ T-shirts, or spending hundreds of dollars on our floral tablescapes for Shavuos (all following of course whatever our most popular “influencer” chose as her flowers of choice), and it becomes even more painful.
    Not only are we squelching our kids’ and our own individuality, we’re also going broke as we do it.

  20. Avatar
    Ruth Zimberg, Tzfat

    I would refuse to send my daughter to a camp where the children would rather be friends with her clothing than with her.
    What kind of chinuch do our communities, schools, and camps teach? Value the clothing and not the person? What will happen when she gets married? She’ll have to have the fanciest hall, dress, flowers, musicians, food, etc., etc. or she’ll be SAD?
    Kids should thank their parents for the opportunity to go to camp and not become little dictators.

    1. Avatar

      I agree wholeheartedly!

  21. Avatar
    A New Yorker

    Less than seldom do I write. Tonight I sat down immediately after reading Open Mic just to say, she is so right.
    Dear readers, Mishpacha editors, community, askanim, camp directors, rabbanim: Who will bravely start the conversation? Who will blink first? If we can’t help make it right for our teens and preteens and our hardworking families, all the Mesilas and budgeting classes in the world won’t help.
    Because we know the needs and entitlements; it will only get worse….

Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein has been a Senior Lecturer for Aish HaTorah’s Discovery Seminars and Project Chazon for over 25 years. He has appeared before tens of thousands throughout North America, Israel, Europe, South Africa as well as at England’s prestigious Cambridge University.
A talmid of Bais Hatalmud, Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim and Mesivta Tifereth Yerushalayim, Rabbi Milstein lectures weekly at the New York Seminary and serves as the Rav of Congregation Ishay Yisroel in Lakewood, New Jersey.

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