Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Nothing but the truthiness

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) has married into parenting. Here is an amusing post of how he dealt with escalating children demands.

I’m not experienced at parenting. Sometimes it shows. Recently I offered to buy a video game for my newly acquired 6-year old son. There was no particular reason for the gift except that I was going to Best Buy for something else and wanted to give him a reason to come along. At this point in my story, those of you who are experienced parents already know the mistake I made. The conversation took an ugly turn:

6-year old: Yay! A new video game!

Me: Put on your shoes and you can go pick it out with me.

6-year old: Can we buy TWO video games?

Me: No, just one.

6-year old: Why can’t we buy two? You’re rich.

Well, at this point, I’m totally screwed. I feel a responsibility to give good reasons for my decisions whenever possible. I refuse to use “because I said so” or “we can’t afford it” because he’d see through those in a heartbeat. And I couldn’t lecture to him about the benefits of moderation because at the time we were preparing for a cruise to the Caribbean. I had nothing.

Worse yet, if I agreed to buy him two video games just to make the problem go away, he’d ask for three. He’s smart that way. Then his sister would demand a pony in the name of fairness. Before long the whole thing would degenerate into tears, biting, and permanent emotional scars. And that’s just me.

My new mother-in-law advised me to tell the kids they have to earn everything. In theory, that will keep them from being spoiled. There’s merit to that approach, but I worry that they’ll start demanding a new toy ever time they eat a vegetable. “Earning” is way too vague.

Luckily, what I lack in parenting skills I make up for in weasel experience. My strategy – and it has been extremely successful so far – is to offer such boringly technical explanations that his 6-year old eyes glaze over and he wanders away. For example:

Me: Well, the reason you can have one but not two video games will require an explanation that spans the fields of economics and psychology. Pull up a chair and I’ll begin by discussing the future expected value of good character development versus the present incremental value of an extra video game. Would it help to review the concept of discounted cash flows?

6-year old: Never mind. I’ll ask Mom.

My method has the advantage that he understands I have a reason, and he’s reminded that I’m still smarter than he is. I plan to milk this approach until he starts reading my blog.

Suffice it to say I have employed the same strategy of truthiness to great effect. Adams has a background in economics and business so I can't rule out that it requires those skills. However, I can also recommend it for tricky discussions on sex, birthing, god and evolution.