Material deprivation, early responsibility and self direction

Here is another guest posting from our great friend John.


Material deprivation, early responsibility and self direction

The other day my son wanted a pair of Nike air max shoes. It seems these are all the rage these days. We checked the price, $130 and up to as high as $180, for a pair of sneakers.  We took the opportunity to teach him about the value of money. I told him that we would pay $50 to buy the shoes, the remainder will come out of his allowance. At the end, we bought a pair of older more basic model of Nike air max for $40. We gave him some sole gel inserts which added to the comfort of the shoes.

All the tiger mom talk we see, I felt that what is missing in the equation are three things.
1. material deprivation.
2. early responsibility.
3. Self direction

These tasks are made harder by rich relatives. We paid our kids five dollars a month for their allowance, for which they earn interest in the mommy daddy bank. On Thanksgiving, the kids received $500 each from their great aunt, it makes the allowance puny in comparison. We will now have to institute a rule that all such gifts be confiscated for their college expense.

I think that especially in today’s world, material deprivation is necessary for the development of a child. Kids today have so much, it is very easy to get lost in the ipads and the Nike shoes that they failed to learn the responsibility of having money. Material deprivation also instill a sense of drive. My friend was talking about teaching his kid to play guitar the other day and he lamented that kids today do not have the drive like when he was growing up. When he was growing up, there was not music lessons, so after having been bitten by the bug of guitar playing, he would go and buy himself a guitar, and learn to play songs he hear from the radio, all done on his own will. Because everything is handed to them, and also because of the busy schedule,  even kids raised by tiger moms today do not have this desire from within to learn something on their own.

An example of the success of material deprivation was the raising of William Randolph Hearst, whose mother “took joy in depriving her son of material things”. I think without that, he would not rise to be the titan that he was. A life in which the wants are always sated is a life ruined because it rob them of their good senses and their drive.

Early responsibility is also important. My kids picked out their own clothes to wear each day from an early age. They took baths on their own since about five or six. My daughter, at nine, is not only helping out with household tasks, but also helping to cook. She really love to do the work and got recognition from our Thanksgiving guests for the outstanding dish she made. There is nothing like taking responsibility and the initiative to do something and getting feedback that you have done a good job. No amount of empty praise from adults can substitute the feedback of real success.

A big portion of the CEOs of the world had something happened in their childhood caused them to step up and take responsibility not only on their own lives,  but also for their sibling’s.

I think early childhood responsibility is crucial in developing a strong adult.

Finally, I think that kids should be given the freedom to initiate their own projects and to pursue their own interest. This is the antithesis of the tiger mom way of raising kids, where every minute of their life is crammed and filled to the brim with work. This creates initiative and develop interests at an early age where they developed passion for somethings of their own choosing.

Unfortunately, both here and world wide, the trend is to give more things to the kids and  shield them from any responsibilities to take care of themselves and others. Even in China, where life of the parents were difficult, it was always the norm to leave the kids with more material things and to shield them from hardship and responsibilities. And I think Chinese everywhere have a tendency to be the tiger mom when given the chance and not to allow their kids to pursue work on their own.  I think more then the dysgenic trend, which would have an effect in a century or two, this trend of child spoiling will result in a lost generation in as little as a couple of decades. You can already see this in the current generation of Americans, or even people grow up after the war. A friend of mine was in his fifties. Worked until the dot com bust in 2002, when he lost his job. Instead of getting up and finding another, he has chosen to claim bogus disability and no longer works. His son finished college, and is now working at a local grocery store bagging groceries, with no direction in his life. With many examples like this which I personally witnessed, one can see the degradation of character across the generations. Getting worse as each generation comes to past.

Increasingly, our prosperity is getting in the way of raising good kids.


  1. When I was young we were poor many years (parent illness). As a result I picked up bad poor people characteristics like being way to cheap when it didn’t make sense and picking careers based on money even when you absolutely hate them. Also, I think it makes some sense to spend some money on helping your kid keep up as a teenager (enough to not feel like a loser and maybe get laid). Maybe 40 years ago you could do that working part time but now min wage blows and you wouldn’t even be able to save up for a car. Plus Harvard is going to look at your kid and wonder why he was doing a shift at the mall rather then checking off his extra curriculars and AP classes.

  2. I often think that this is the reason for the vast success of computer games, especially the online ones which incorporate status and achievement systems. They simulate the Opportunity of Hearst – initiative, ambition, control.

    More importantly: initiative, ambition, control, without parental involvement. Preferably without parental knowledge or influence. The independence is an essential part of the reward for many young men, especially those with annoying parents or elder siblings.

    The downside is: like Tiger Momming, games train kids to invest into closed-box contexts, and are therefore fundamentally unlike the Opportunity of Hearst. It’s difficult to transfer closed-box skills (target is given to you) into the open-box context of outside-the-box thinking (you must design the target). I often think that correctly choosing targets is the most difficult kind of meta-cognition, and a major component of why Chinese civilization did less well than it could have in the past.

    I was in a situation slightly contrasted with asdf in that through my early teen years, I had a disproportionately easy time attracting female attention, due to genetics rather than wealth. But the effect of this was that female attention depreciated in value for me, since it’s so transparently stupid (I was very cognizant that it was a simple function of genetics and Game, and that character traits of integrity and value-creation were actually a turn-off for most female primate brains, and need to be kept secret from most women, who just want Edward Cullen). Ironically, I think that this deprived me of a major source of ambition, since most men frankly do stuff for the purpose of impressing stupid women.

    But impressing women is IMHO yet another closed box skill, similar to impressing tiger mom and winning the game, because any ambition that women (those most idiotic of primates!) can’t understand and appreciate is slowly shifted beyond the horizon. I admire Nietzsche for his early recognition of this. I’ve never met a woman who did not loathe Nietzsche. ^_^ Not a single one.

  3. redzengenoist,

    I was the opposite, I have terrible genetics. I was also too poor to afford a car, entertainment, or any decent clothes. So in my teens I didn’t get many women (like one GF in HS and one in college). I used to be a lot more obsessed with women.

    Then things changed. I got a little older (mid/late 20s). My game got better. I had money (you don’t even need to spend it on them, just have it). I started getting lots of girls. At first I spent a lot of time on this, but then I got really bored. What is so exciting at first quickly reveals itself to be incredibly tedious. Getting laid is fun, but then it gets boring. Having a D/S love slave is fun, but then it gets boring. Every man has to check off his “get laid a bunch” box, but eventually you move on.

    This can have a negative effect on earnings. The easiest way to make money in this world is boring worthless corporate BS, especially if its on the immoral side of things. Once you no longer crave money to get women putting up with that BS is pretty much impossible. You want to actually accomplish something. Maybe there is some drive to make enough to support a family, but not to get rich or chase every dollar at the office. I made a career change once I got over this.

    1. @asdf: Yeah, lot of tick-boxes like that.

      I wonder if many of these can be ticked with more control, in an optimized adolescence regimen, rather than be left to random discovery. It’s nuts how we guiltlessly train children in swimming and mathematics, but the scientific evidence for Game and Signaling is somehow something that kids are left to discover at great personal cost. I’d love to have robbed the subjects of their (false) mystery in an early age by a caustic run-down of the evidence.

      1. Functioning societies used to have tradition and right of passage for this kind of stuff. We lost it.

  4. Let me clarify where I am coming from. Our kids are not deprived by any means. They have fashionable high end cloths. We go skiing in the winter, Hawaii for vacation. They have all the activities they can handle. The question is, how do we teach them the value of money in an age when all is provided. One way we did this is to them manage a portion of their money through their allowance. I would be O.K. if my son bought the expensive Nike shoes, so long as he is willing to pay for them.

    I have lived long enough to see how people turned out. Inevitably, the bad outcomes are always associated with doting parents. It did not matter that they were rich or poor, parents that shielded their kids from hardship and responsibility always turned out adults that are failures. The other way to have a bad outcome is to have complete neglect. I have many friends and acquaintances in the restaurant business. It is a brutal business if you don’t do it right. It demands all your time. The family is neglected. Most kids who grew up in this environment did not turn out well. Many did OK, but they could have done so much better. Some managed to rise above the environment.

    In the final analysis, my idea of material deprivation could be re-categorized as another form of early responsibility, in this case, financial responsibility.

    1. @john: Imagine giving the kids sufficient money and resources, but they have responsibility to spend it on protecting themselves and their smaller siblings from constant attacks from evil outsiders from outside the tribe, say, or even spend it on pre-emptive attacks upon these. I imagine that this is, on average, a very character forming adolescence regimen. Very Hearst-like.

      1. I have nothing against video games in principle. However, I think it is very addictive and it takes bandwidth away from real human interaction. The skill one learns from playing video games is no different then the ones learned playing chess. I have seen too many kids getting addicted and spends all their time playing, to the detriment of their other developments. As a result, we are not going down that path.

  5. I think it’s solid advice. I only learned the value of money (and time) after college, and damn it was hard to adjust. Fortunately I have a comfortable niche and have learned to attract low-maintenance women, but I was very damn close to depression and failure.

    I’ll have my kids raise chickens and sell eggs if they want pocket money.

  6. I don’t fault your 50 year old friend taking up the disability check. What other job would he get?

    I agree with your post; I’m not sure if the next generation or two will have the engineers and blue collar technical people who have the gumption to keep an electrical grid running 24/7 and everyone’s life is dependent upon that.

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