Pocket money used to be a token gesture. Now it’s serious business | Sam Wolfson

Rising costs of living are not only affecting adults. Perhaps it’s time we thought about the next generation of teenage jobs

Research published this week found that the amount of pocket money children receive is on the up. I was surprised they were still given any at all. Even the phrase “pocket money” sounds painfully anachronistic, from an age when penny sweets actually cost a penny and the cast of Operation Yewtree were employed as professional children’s broadcasters. In these leaner times, when many parents are struggling to buy actual eggs and milk, never mind their gelatinous imitators, you might think that pocket money would be the first thing to be scrapped from the family budget.

Instead, the bank of mum and dad is forking over £12.05 on average, going up to £22 in the school holidays. When I was a kid, children with separated parents always seemed to do better, getting a couple of quid a week at home and then a big cash bonus every second weekend.

But £22 still sounds like quite a lot of money to give to people who shouldn’t actually need anything. Especially when you consider child benefit for the eldest child is only £20.30 a week. Give it some thought though, and the runaway inflation of pocket money starts to make sense. In fact, I think kids might need even more cash.

For young kids, pocket money used to be a token gesture, an opportunity for a child to make their first steps as a rational agent in the free market, by choosing which colour slap-bracelet they wanted. But toys just kept getting better. When I was younger, you could get weeing dolls where you could pour water in one end and, immediately, it would come out the other. Not bad. But the new Baby Poo And Pee Pee has an animatronic penis that raises before spraying a jet of water with enough force to control a riot. That kind of innovation costs.

As you get older, pocket money becomes more serious business, the things you need to buy at 15 – which if memory serves me correctly are Glen’s vodka, trendy cardigans and festival tickets – can cost hundreds of pounds. No wonder kids are still saying they don’t get enough pocket money, claiming, on average, they need double what they’re getting at the moment. Most parents agree, and say they would give their kids more if they could afford it.

As we all learned in the playground, pocket money comparisons have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Rich kids often don’t get any certified pocket money, their economic system is more utopian: point and receive. In less well-off families, pocket money is often expected to go a lot further. When EMA was introduced, a form of government pocket money for poor students in post-16 education, I remember a lot of resentment towards people getting £30 a week just for showing up to school. “He’s not even that poor,” was a common playground complaint. Of course when you’re expected, as many were, to spend that money on food, clothes, books and transport, £4.30 a day doesn’t feel like that much (although it’s more than nothing, which is how much young people in poverty get for attending sixth form today).

Whatever the exact figures of how much parents are spending on their children, kids clearly need to make up the shortfall themselves. Many try to supplement their pocket money with jobs, but youth unemployment is high and the humble newspaper round has gone the same way as the humble newspaper. The organisation that conducted the research, National Citizen Service, wants teenagers to sign up for its three-week course in the summer for £50. I’m sure they do honourable work, but that’s not going to get you a quarter of the way to Glastonbury. There must be a way to make a faster buck without having to put so much effort in.

Lots of people today call themselves social media managers, and get paid to make company’s Facebook and Twitter presence more relevant and involving. Can’t enterprising teenagers do that for their mates?

“Sure, your status ‘Jamie MacDonald has got a well smelly wang’ was hilarious, but if you’d @’d Jamie directly and used the hashtag #smellywangs you would have seen a lot higher engagement. My fee is £3.50.”

How about licensing agreements for all the cute films their parents made of them when they were younger? 30,000 views of you trying to ride your dog might have seemed like a laugh to Mum and Dad, but monetise that with a few ads and you could keep yourself in Panda Pops for life.

They could learn how to mine Bitcoin. The main thing you need is a computer that you leave on all the time, which kids do anyway. Plus, even when the currency is at a low ebb, they can talk up its value in the playground, just like with marbles or Pokemon cards.

Or you could follow my example, and spend your weekends DJing at 13-year-olds’ parties and bar mitzvahs. If there’s one realisation that kept me flush during my adolescence, it was that the Jewish mothers of north London didn’t know what the going rate was for a kid to show up and play Kate Nash and The Wombats on their hi-fi.

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