LEADING ARTICLE : Spare the cash, spoil the parent

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These are bloody times for the middle-aged. You're at maximum stretch, building a career in an uncertain world. You've got a bad case of the negative equities or of high interest. The pension payments and the life assurance skim the top off your non-inflation-linked salary. And do the children help? They do not.

Modern children do not expect to make sacrifices for the sake of the family. They are like the schnorrer (beggar) in the Jewish story, who regularly receives food and clothes from a respectable household. One day the woman of the house tearfully tells the schnorrer she has bad news: "My husband has lost his job, we were robbed last week, granny has had a stroke - I have nothing to give you." "So?" exclaims the schnorrer, "just because you fall on bad times, why should I suffer?"

It is hardly surprising. Vast armies of smarmy ad executives spend their lives dreaming up ways of persuading your children to bully you into spending money you do not have on things that have the lifespans of aphids.

Look at the clothes. Today's children are the heirs to Brummell and the Earl of Essex. Not for them the desert boots, tie-dye T-shirts and grandpa's army greatcoat (total cost £2 10s 6d), but ensembles costing hundreds.

Remember kid's parties? Pass-the-parcel, a dollop of jelly and "thanks for having me". Not any more. Emily had a bouncy castle, Thomas an entertainer, so you book a church hall and a live band. And who invented party bags? These are a mad new version of the arms race, with equally disastrous consequences. The first ones contained a stick of rock and a plastic whistle. Soon kiddies will be rolling home with Armani mini sunglasses and a cheque for ten quid stuffed in their plastic Mickey Mouse bags.

Thank God, then, for Pogs, the latest playground craze. As reported today, these toys are both cheap and popular, consisting of little more than a laminated cardboard disc. They involve harmless competition and are eminently collectable - throwbacks to the days of bubblegum cards and marbles. Pogs should give parents new confidence. Now we should build upon that confidence.

Here is the Independent's own action plan for parental salvation. First, demand the reintroduction of the school uniform. Second, band together to take out a civil action against the most effective advertisers of tinselly rubbish. Third, ban party bags (to avoid any charges of meanness, claim your action is due to concern for the environment).

Best of all, open at birth an account for your child and deposit all the money that you are prepared to spend during the next 18 years. Have the statements sent directly to the little person. Do not weaken, even when the bailiffs call. You'll be doing it for all of us.

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