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Hands exchanging money over stacks of CDs; and a child is resting his head on his arms over the counter in the background.

Back-to-school shopping tip: It's often smart to buy only one or two essential items before school begins, then wait a few weeks before doing major shopping.

Tis the season for back-to-school shopping

From eNews, September 1, 2005

Back-to-school shopping is almost like Christmas. Parents across the country are being bombarded with "gotta have it" messages from their kids. Between peer pressure and sophisticated advertising, even very young children get drawn into consumerism, feeling that they need the latest style, according to Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth, and Family Consortium.

"It's up to parents to put these demands in perspective and help children make reasonable decisions during back-to-school shopping," says Erickson. "As with so many parenting experiences, this situation presents not only a challenge, but also an opportunity to teach your children skills and attitudes for life."

Here, she offers tips for parents on how to help their teens distinguish their needs from their wants.

Acknowledge your children's feelings. Sometimes it's tempting to meet a child's demands with a dismissing, "Oh, you don't need that!" But that kind of response sets up a power struggle. Instead, you can keep communication open by simply saying, "Yes, I can see that you'd really like to have that."

Declare a waiting period before shopping, suggesting that in the meantime your children keep a running list of "must have" items. Children and teens are impulsive; when they want something they want it right now. It's often smart to buy only one or two essential items before school begins, then wait a few weeks before doing major shopping.

Set up a realistic back-to-school budget and engage your children in comparison-shopping to figure out what they can afford. Or look through catalogs before hitting the malls. When children know their parents are serious about keeping to a budget, they can make wise choices.

Divide your shopping trips into two stages: scout first, then buy. Make it clear to your children that the first time through the mall you are not going to buy anything. Have your children take a notebook and keep track of the items they like, noting brand, color, size, and price. Then get a snack and go over the list together and decide what to go back and purchase.

Help your children earn money and save, whether they do extra household chores for you or, if they're old enough, baby-sit or do lawn work for neighbors. Earning money for things they want will build their confidence and increase their appreciation of what they have.