Last week, in a private parenting group I’m in on Facebook, a parent posted asking for advice on buying a car for her teenage daughter. She wanted to know what other parents considered when shopping for their teen’s first car — how did they find good deals, how much did they spend or plan to spend, how much did the teen contribute to the purchase, how do they shop with confidence about the car’s history, etc.
Some of the commenters gave great advice, pointing to a couple of car buying websites where you could get a complete history of a car and even do all the negotiating online. Some discussed how their teens had a savings account and helped contribute to the purchase of the car or a job to pay back a portion to mom and dad or to cover the monthly gas and insurance expense.
But a few parents popped in to say, basically, that they’d bought their kid a really nice car and didn’t ask for anything in return from the kid. Parents were buying their teens new or almost-new cars, sometimes taking on a whole extra car payment, paying for insurance and gas on top of that, and not requiring the kid to have any kind of income to help out because “school comes first” or “they’re too busy.” One mom said she’d bought her kid a car and “had” to spend $12,000 because there was no way she could get anything cheaper than that and trust it to be safe enough.
Listen, I try not to judge other parents’ way of raising their kids, and really, knock yourself out spoiling your kid if that’s how your family does things and you’re relatively sure you aren’t raising a sociopathic douchebag. You do you, boo. But… it’s that last comment, the one about safety, that raised my hackles, especially since a few other parents popped in to agree with it — that you simply cannot get a safe car for under $10,000. No way would they let their kid drive an older model car. So dangerous!
Do these parents even hear themselves?
The car I drive is probably worth about $5,000 at this point. I bought it almost-new 11 years ago and plan to use it until it shrivels up and dies on the side of the road because I love not having a car payment. Also, it runs great, because I’ve taken care of it. Not that I’m knocking anyone who has a car payment or pays a shit-ton for a car. Whatever. It’s your money, spend it how you want, obviously. But… my car is not safe? It’s not good enough to drive my kids around in? My teen is still a year away from getting his license, but am I, like, a bad parent for not leveling up? Do I not love my kids and worry about their safety as much as these parents who feel it absolutely necessary to spend a minimum of $12,000 on a car for a 16-year-old? I guarantee neither of my kids will be driving a car worth more than whatever I’m driving. But by these parents’ logic, I am not concerned about their safety, or at least, not as concerned as they are.
These one-percenter parents have keyed into this idea that they “can’t possibly” subject their kids to what they perceive as an unacceptably dangerous situation. They present this outsized fear about their children’s safety as if it’s the most obvious, normal fear in the world that simply must be mitigated. It’s a small price to pay for my child’s safety, they insist, probably with their hands clasped over their chests, as if the other 99% of the population doesn’t have to basically just take whatever option is most affordable and hope for the best.
Fellow parents, if you have the money to throw around to get the best of all the things, please understand, that is a privilege. A luxury, even. It is not a necessity like food, water, and shelter. Recognize that. If you’re announcing to a group of parents of mixed financial means, many of whom may not be able to afford a car for their kid at all, whom may not even be able to afford a car for themselves, that you wouldn’t dare spend less than ten grand on your delicate angel baby, because “safety,” you sound insensitive and privileged AF.
Seriously, get whatever car for your kid you want, spend as much as you want. But don’t throw “safety” into the conversation to validate your spending as if other parents who can’t afford to spend that much don’t also worry for their kids’ safety. All parents worry about their kids’ safety, but not all parents can drop several thousand extra dollars to increase the likelihood of that safety. If you’re paying extra to keep your kid safe, fine, but don’t talk about it like it’s a necessity, like you must love your kid more than other parents because you’re “willing” to fork over the extra cash. Not everyone has extra cash. Parents are doing the best they can with the resources available to them.
Whether it’s the best snow boots to keep their kids’ feet dry in winter, the most expensive violin to give their kid the extra oomph for those youth symphony auditions, or expensive outside tutoring to ensure a kid passes Algebra II — these are all awesome if you can afford it, but every one of these things is a privilege and a luxury, not even close to a necessity. So please don’t present them as one. It’s gross. It makes other parents who care about their kids’ success and safety just as much as you feel like trash. If you can afford those extras that give your kid a leg up, that’s what they are — extras that give your kid a leg up. Not needs. Not proof that you care enough, or more than other parents.
Seriously, do what you want. But have a little self awareness when you talk about this stuff, otherwise you look like an oblivious, insensitive jerk.