News

3.22.2016

UHealth Pediatrician Contributes to Book about Impact of Parental Spending on Kids’ Well-Being

Gwen Wurm, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics, went to a Christmas party in the home of friends and ran into a mutual friend, Brett Graff, a writer and expert in consumer economics. As they looked at the pile of presents placed under the tree for the family’s children, the same thought occurred to both of them.

What if parents gave their kids less stuff and more time? What would the effects be on the family — not just its finances, but on the children’s physical and emotional well-being, both short- and long-term?

From those initial thoughts came follow-up discussions and ultimately, this month, a book — Not Buying It: Stop Overspending and Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids (Seal Press, paperback, $16) — written by Graff, with a foreword and additional input from the point of view of a developmental pediatrician by Wurm, who is also Medical Director of the Medical Foster Care Program at Jackson Health System and on the Board of Directors of Our Kids Inc.

“It is both heartbreaking and infuriating to see preschoolers spending long hours in the car, being driven to $200 math classes where they’ll do worksheets instead of playing happily, counting flower petals, in their own backyards,” Wurm wrote. “Or walking into the exam room to find a patient of any age — but especially the babies — hypnotized by an $800 electronic device instead of singing with mom. Families in our practice routinely move to other counties for a bigger home that’s far away from the father’s job. I hope the kids are happier having their own rooms. But I bet they would trade it for having Dad read a bedtime story.”

The financial impact is very real. Graff estimates that if the average family jumps off the spending merry-go-round, focuses on what really matters — versus what marketing and peer pressure tell them matters — and invests the difference, they could end up $1 million ahead over a lifetime.

But Wurm says it’s about much more than money.

“It all relates to how children develop,” she said. “The message of the book is to get back to basics. What kids really need is what we can’t buy — the time we can spend with them. It’s all about being there for the kids. We tend to hand off our parenting to others because we’re scared, but we don’t need to spend money to be good parents, and we can do what’s best for our kids without putting ourselves in an economic hole.”

A prime example? Food.

“We have an epidemic of childhood obesity, and obese children often grow up to be obese adults,” she said. “If you take your children shopping with you in the supermarket and then go home and cook nutritious meals together, you can help build a lifetime of healthy eating habits. And learning to cook, and getting all the ingredients in a recipe mixed in the correct amounts, is a great way to learn math. It’s far more beneficial than getting your food out of a bag handed through a car window.”

Still, Wurm says she understands the pressures parents feel because she has been through it all with her own children.

“I remember going back and forth for weeks between buying the $40 big-box store bike for my four-year-old or the $200 Trek,” she wrote. “Didn’t I want my child to love bike riding? Didn’t I want her to become athletic and develop a lifelong sport?”

Wurm decided to show her daughter pictures of both bikes.

“She wanted the purple one, and I was $160 the better,” Wurm said. The bike was used for two years until it was outgrown and then handed down to a cousin.

“As for my daughter,” said Wurm of her now 17-year-old offspring, “she still loves to bike, and her bike is still purple.”

And according to Graff, the money Wurm saved is now worth $500.

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