Lately I've been having a tougher time squeezing my Volkswagen between the behemoths in the parking lot of my daughter's high school. The de rigueur Jeep Cherokees have been joined by Durangos, Tahoes and the occasional Mercedes SUV.
Most of the cars are gifts from doting dads who are trying to shield their little girls with as much sheet metal as they can afford — and who, I suspect, get a kick out of showing off that they can afford a lot. For the record, our daughter drives the family's Ford Taurus wagon.
A study by Teenage Research Unlimited, in Northbrook, Ill., found that parents are more likely to buy cars and cell phones for their daughters than for their sons, possibly because the girls have persuaded them that they need them for safety. But in the name of safety, parents may be endangering the financial health of their daughters by leading them to expect that Daddy will always be there to bail them out.
I don't mean to be sexist. Parents can be just as adept at spoiling their sons, and there's no gene that makes men better money managers. All kids learn about money from adults, and parents have a responsibility to teach both sons and daughters good money-management skills.
But young women are especially vulnerable because well-meaning parents in general, and dads in particular, have a tendency to want to make things easier for them. Showering a daughter with stuff because she's "our little princess" shortchanges her on financial responsibility.
I'm certainly not against buying nice surprises for your daughter, or helping her to get started when she's out on her own. But if you overwhelm her with financial help, she'll never learn to be on her own.
In matters of money, young women need to "think single" — a concept that has nothing to do with the state of matrimony. Rather, it's a state of mind in which they feel comfortable handling money and confident that they can manage their finances and support themselves.
Because women's lives are so bound up with others — parents, spouses, children — it's a lifelong challenge for them to build and maintain financial independence. And it's impossible if Dad is always standing there with an open wallet and a set of car keys.
Have a question about kids and finances for Dr. Tightwad? Write to Dr. T at 1729 H St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006. Or send the good doctor an e-mail message (and any other questions for this column) to email@example.com.