Today's youths face a new era of limits


New York -- Young people are growing up today in a world radically different from the one their parents knew.

Instead of prosperity, which shaped the expectations of earlier generations, they see debt, recession, layoffs, struggle and fear. They already understand that huge social burdens, like the retirement of the baby boomers, will drop on their unready shoulders. They know they are the generation born to pay.

The kids of the '60s bounced from job to job to find out what would satisfy them the most. Nineties kids are also bouncing around -- but only because all they can find is part-time or temporary work. Where once was confidence now lies a deep sense of insecurity.

It's too early to take the full measure of this change. But it should produce a generation of people more in sympathy with Depression beliefs -- "risk less and save" -- than with the borrow-and-spend flamboyance of the Inflation Generation.

In 1988, more than half of all teen-agers agreed with the state ment, "Success means making a lot of money," according to Teen-age Research Unlimited in Northbrook, Ill. Last year, slightly less than one-third agreed.

This change might reflect not only a sense of their own diminished prospects (in the immediate future, at least), but also the experience of throttling down on living standards when a parent loses work.

Teen-age spending per person has increased, Teen-age Research Unlimited reports. But for the first time in five years, the sums teens are given by their parents have declined. More of the money they spend comes from their own earnings, which should make them more conscious of the value of the things they buy.

Savings among children 12 and under has surged, said James McNeal, professor of marketing at Texas A&M; University. In 1989, they were saving 30 percent of their income from allowances, gifts and so on. Last year, they saved 40 percent. "They're hearing their parents say, 'Save more money; you'll want new shoes, and I may not be able to afford them,' " Mr. McNeal said.

Children save mainly for short-term goals such as clothes and entertainment.

But that doesn't matter, as long as they're getting the savings habit. Once they have it, and grow older, they should be more receptive to saving money for longer-term goals such as their education.

One good place for young people to save is a credit union which has a youth savings program. Such programs don't smother small deposits with fees. Some banks also waive fees on kids' savings accounts.

When opening a child's account, don't do it yourself. Take your child along, so that he or she can hand the money over and get the statement back. With subsequent statements, show the children how their money earns money while they sleep.

One more good piece of advice on savings: Don't refuse children who want to take money out of the account. If they get the idea that once banked it's gone, they won't want to add any more to their savings.

One-third of all children age 12 to 19 get allowances, according to the Rand Youth Poll in New York. The rest earn all their money or get it from their parents as needed.

But no matter where the money comes from, or how much money the family has, most children get roughly the same income, Mr. McNeal said.

The Rand Youth Poll put average allowances at $15.25 a week last year for boys 13 to 15 and $16.90 for girls that age. Boys 16 to 19 averaged $27.20, and girls averaged $28.80. Girls get more because they spend more on "self-improvement" such as clothes and cosmetics.

In his studies of younger children, Mr. McNeal sees them growing more value oriented and less brand oriented.

In stores, "children will ask, 'Is this on sale?,' " he says. For the first time, some retailers are experimenting with aiming price advertising at children. "Children today understand price advertising," Mr. McNeal said. "They've become more sophisticated consumers."

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