My 11-year-old-going-on-47-year-old friend stopped by last night. I almost always enjoy a visit from him. It’s true that sometimes he drives me crazy but most of the time he lifts my spirits and disperses any unhappy feelings I might have been harbouring. Well, last night I knew he had something important on his mind. I was talking to my sister, Kate, on the phone and he waited and waited for me to finish. He was watching me and moving back and forth on his toes in anticipation of telling me his news. Then he took his wallet out of his bag as an additional hint to hurry up so he could show me his secret. There was nothing to be done but hang up and find out what the surprise was.
He got an excited look on his face and reached into his wallet and, then, with a flourish he took out a bank card. “I have my very own debit card now,” he boasted. “I’m the first kid in my school to have one.” I think the latter tidbit was the real heart of his boast. He had been talking earlier about wanting one and that he thought he had convinced his mother to agree to it. The little blue card in his fingers testified that he had succeeded in just that. I, being the practical, sometimes annoying, alternative voice, said, “I can’t believe your mother would agree to let you take out money whenever you wanted.” Oh, she evidently, did put limits on the amount and his Purchasing Power. A smart mama who knows her son all too well.
It was when he asked whether he could buy things on-line with his debit card that I got worried. He must have read it in my eyes because he said, “I wouldn’t buy anything on-line,” like that would console this honorary grandmother of his. But I was still perplexed that a bank would actually give a debit card to an 11-year-old. I asked him about that. He said that if he was twelve he wouldn’t have even needed a parent signature. “That’s crazy,” I said. He didn’t think it was crazy at all but answered, “I need this, Ann.”
“Need? Why?” I asked. “To buy things,” he answered. He knew the word “need” had triggered me and that he was in for one of my little, informative, mild, RANTS about the difference between need and want. I must say this for my friend, he does allow me a certain amount of righteous mutterings without walking out the door or rolling his eyes or countering with his own arguments — unlike moi who would have been muttering counterpoints to my mother when she was lecturing me on some stupid thing I had proposed.
Then I realized, I was ruining his joy, his surprise, his, as he put it, “first step into adulthood”. (I could have told him that he acted far more intelligently and maturely than many of the adults that I knew.) So I put the brakes on my preaching, and got excited for him with a few cautious words on how to manage his money — and a reminder that he might want to save more since he wants to go to culinary school in five years. Then, to convince me that this was a responsible and smart thing to do, he told me that when he turned twelve in a few days, they would deposit $25 into his account. And, even better, when he turned thirteen next year it would be $60. It was like him saying to me, “See, Ann, I’m pretty smart about this.” Then he pulled out, as final proof, a transaction book that they gave him to keep track of his deposits and withdrawals. I might just sit down with him and show him how that works.
In the end, I suppose, it’s all a ploy of the banks to make good little consumers out of his generation so they end up in credit card debt and getting loans and lines of credit. But for the moment, he has his one little card and the grown-up feeling of being able to go to the bank machine and get out his own money when he wants.