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Here’s Your Gift, Now Give it Back!: Do Kids Have Property Rights? | The Family Podcast Network



Apr 18

Here’s Your Gift, Now Give it Back!: Do Kids Have Property Rights?

Small amount of background. I am the oldest of 5. All girls. Our ages are in range from 33 (me) to 13. I have a full sister and 3 half sisters that I absolutely never consider my half sisters, but, whatever. I say all this just so that this story will make a little more sense! :-)

My mom called me the other day very upset. Her ex-husband (not my father) had apparently told one of my sisters (who is 16)  that if she does not come see him next week, he will take away the car he just bought her. He lives less than an hour away, so it's not like he was demanding she drive to Alaska or anything. Mom was so upset that he would threaten her with such a thing and felt it was very manipulative. She was far more upset than my sister was about. My sister is very much like me in that she matter of factly shrugged her shoulders and responded with an 'ok.' But mom was furious. She called me and went on and on. Her and him didn't have the most amicable of divorces, if you can't tell. I listened to her lament and interjected the appropriate oohhh's and awwww's. After she had calmed down a bit, I asked her a question. My question was simply had she ever taken away a phone when one of my sisters had not done something that was asked of them. The line was silent. It was then followed by, 'well, that's different.'

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Now, I love my mom. Love love love. We talk several times a day and have a wonderful relationship. Every once and awhile when I say something she doesn't like she will comment with a 'well, I am your mother' or 'you'll understand when your kids or older' or some sort of placating comment of the such. I hate those comments, but comes with the territory of being friends with your mom. So with this conversation I asked her what made her actions so different from her ex-husbands. 'It just is' was the basically answer.

The actions by her and her ex-husband got me to thinking, do kids have property rights? And if they don't, should they?

At what point in parenting did we get to where we felt it was ok to take away our children's things?

'Well, I bought it!' The gift, not the kids, of course! Ok, so, let's go down that line of thinking. Let's say your an accountant at a small boutique shop and work for the owner/manager. It's bonus time and you can't wait to see what your bonus is this year. Your handed a small box and in it contains a beautiful pair of earrings you've been eyeballing for several weeks now. You go home for the weekend and when you get back to work you realize you forgot to file your paperwork on Friday. Shoot! Your boss walks through the door and states 'I noticed you didn't file your paperwork on Friday. I'm afraid I am going to have to ask you give back those earrings.' 

WHAT!?!? That is so different than what I do with my kids!

Is it? You are taking back something that was given as a gift! Period. In essence, your stealing. You are taking something that is not yours without the permission of the owner. When a gift is given, the receiver is the owner of said gift. So, therefore, when you take away your child's property, let's say because they didn't clean their room, you are stealing from your child.

Hmmm. I don't know about you, but that even puts things into perspective for me. Ouch!

Now, I agree that it is our job to train and grow our children to be ready for the real world. But once again, I don't know that I see actions like this occurring on a regular basis in the real world. I don't hear of many bosses walking into their employees office and taking their cell phones and telling them they are going to have to earn it back. Or your mechanic taking away the keys to your car until you understand how important it is to have those tune ups. Seems preposterous when it is put like this, doesn't it?  

So, where do we draw the line when it comes to exacting discipline to our children in a manner that 'it hurts' and avoiding taking away their personal property?

Well, before you stray too far, let's get one thing straight. You are not obligated as a parent to provide your children with a car. Now, if you do decide to do that (awesome for the kid) it should probably be decided if this car is a gift or a loan. If it is a gift, it is theirs. Next step is are you going to provide gas and insurance? As far as I am concerned, that is a luxury. I was given a truck when I turned 17. I then promptly wrecked said truck. Yes, it's true. I received an insurance check and bought a crappy car. I was also told I was going to have to pay for my own insurance and gas. Ok, so maybe this was like my 5th accident in a year. I wasn't the best driver when I was young. But, because of my driving record and the astronomical hike in auto insurance that it caused, I became responsible for my own insurance and gas. It was a lot. Like $300 a month. And for a 17 year old, yikes! Back to point, the car was not only mine but because I paid for insurance and gas, there was really nothing that my parents could take away as far as the vehicle goes without it being, well, wrong. 

Same can go for a cell phone. If the phone is given to them, it is theirs. But you sure as heck don't have to pay for their service!

So, back to how to make it hurt when our kid does an undesired action. Well, that could be an entire blog in and of itself! I think if our mindset is to make a lasting impression on an undesired action from our children, it should be handled differently. So, what if you catch you son on the internet looking at porn. What then? First knee jerk is to take away his computer. Well, once again we are taking away his property. So, possibly another alternative is changing the passcode on your internet and not allowing him access. He still has his computer, but until a desired amount of time is reached or until he decides he wants to pay for his own internet, he won't have access to the internet. 

You daughter stays up past curfew texting. So, instead of taking away her property against her will, turn off service to her phone. Until she can pay for service, she will have a very pretty phone to look at and that's about it. 

We need to get creative as parents. We tend to run to the things that are most easy and painful for the kids. As many of you know, Trey and I lean much more towards positive parenting and not so much towards the deficit mindset. Instead of trying to find things to take away from our kids because of unwanted behavior, we encourage by giving things for positive behavior. But that too could be an entire blog entry!


So I encourage you to take a look at how you treat your kids. Why do you feel it's okay to take away their property? I'm hoping you might see it a little differently. We always try to look at it in a 'would I want someone to do this to me' scenario. Your kids are watching you. When you take their property you are simply conveying to them 'because I am bigger than you, I get to take what I want.' Is that a rational truth? Maybe not. But I guarantee through the eyes of a child it is very likely what they are seeing.

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quatro64 moderator

Thanks so much for the comment! You really make some great points and for the most part I definitely agree. The thing I do think you have to be careful about, lets say, with the car is that are your child's standards going to meet up with your standards? I can definitely see that being a tricky road to follow. But without a doubt, if you are paying for any part of that vehicle/phone, etc... you most definitely have a say! You go over your minutes, you have to pay for it. You wreck your car, you start paying for the insurance! There are no problems with boundaries!

The thing that I mostly see occur is more along the lines of 'you didn't pass your history class, so give me your phone!' A lot of it is just reactionary parenting instead of rational parenting. 

I feel you are definitely right on the money, though, when it comes to having boundaries if your paying for the service/gas/insurance.

Again, thank you for reading and commenting! It's so much fun to get a comment!

Take care!


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Great post, and really thought provoking! I completely understand your point, and as I don't have kids old enough to deal with the phone / computer / car / other large "gift" scenario, I have some time to marinate. Right now though, I guess I see it like this: Some gifts, say, a teddy bear, are the type of gifts that come with no strings attached. You would never say, "I expect you to use this teddy bear within the following guidelines." Well, I guess you could, but that would be ridiculous. Other gifts, like the ones you discuss here, I feel come with certain responsibilities attached. Eg: "You will take good care of your car if you expect me to assist financially in any way." I also don't think it would be out of bounds to say, "I'm giving you this car with the expectation that you will now use it to visit your old dad once in awhile because I love and miss you." Or, "You may have this cell phone provided you stay within your minutes and text limits, and use it appropriately." I do think that if any of this is the case, it should be explained at the time the "gift" is presented. Some might argue that it's not really a gift if it comes with conditions, but I don't see that as the case. I would hope that my child will be mature enough to understand what a blessing it is to receive a car / phone / whatever that they don't have to pay all / any of the bills on. But I guess that remains to be seen. :) Anyway, just my two cents. Keep up the good work!