Care and Feeding

My 7-Year-Old Destroyed Her Tablet. Should I Make Her Pay for a New One?

At her allowance rate, it’s gonna take a while …

An aerial shot of a kid's sneakers looking down at a broken tablet.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Westend61/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

About five months ago, my 7-year-old threw her tablet against the wall after losing a game and it broke. She then brought it to me and said, “Daddy, we have to go to the store for a new one.” I told her that she needed to save up her allowance for a new one. She gets paid by the chore, and it usually totals around $6 a week. I did this because I want her to appreciate her things and appreciate how hard it is to work to afford something. My wife, though, thinks she’s learned her lesson. She wants my daughter to be able to spend her money on other things and thinks that it’s our duty to provide her with things like technology. Because of this, she wants to surprise my daughter with a new tablet on her birthday in a month and put the money she’s saved in her savings account.

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Honestly, I do kind of want her to have a tablet. I can’t direct her to some tablet time when I just need some peace, or when I need her to be occupied like on long car trips. With everything being online, it’s been very inconvenient for us. Additionally, she has been feeling very guilty and is very remorseful about having broken her tablet. She has cried several times about how she wishes she had reacted differently. She has not saved all the money she has earned, as she has bought a few small “wants,” so at the rate she is going it would still probably be another six months or so before she can afford a new tablet on her own. My wife wants to get it for her as a surprise, but I could probably talk her out of it if I really didn’t think it was right. Can you give me some perspective? I want her to learn the value of her things and learn that her actions have consequences, and I definitely don’t want to go back on a decision I made because it shows that parental consequences are malleable; but it does seem a little mean to make her go without for a whole year when she’s just a kid.

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—To Buy or Not to Buy

Dear T.B.N.B.,

At your child’s age, it seems less important to use this incident to teach her some crucial lesson about money and “earning” nice things, and more important to teach her not to throw objects (expensive or not) against the wall! I do think it’s probably good that you didn’t cave and buy her a new tablet right away—she should understand that what she did was unacceptable, and to me it makes sense for her to experience some time without a tablet as a real consequence of her actions. She doesn’t strictly need a tablet, so it’s also fine if you don’t replace it at all.

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But I hear that you and your wife would find your lives easier if she got a new tablet. If you really want her to have another, I personally wouldn’t make her save up to replace it all by herself, because, as you’ve observed, 7-year-olds don’t have much in the way of income. If you both want her to have a tablet sooner rather than later, what about a compromise? She saves up a good portion herself, and then you agree to cover the rest. In which case, perhaps the upcoming birthday “present” could be such an agreement, rather than just the surprise of the device itself.

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I’d make it very clear that if she breaks another tablet, you won’t be replacing that one any time soon. And since this happened after she lost a game, I hope you’re also working on the concept of being a good sport.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a transgender woman who was adopted into a Southern, deeply religious family when I was a baby. It was a deeply traumatic childhood in the ’80s and ’90s knowing what I was, but having parents unwilling to provide help. When I eventually transitioned in the early 2000s, they disowned me. I have not spoken to anyone in my family, including my sister and brother, for decades, despite reaching out.

It’s hard for adoptees to live with having lost one family, but the pain of being discarded by two sets of parents has been beyond painful. I can’t help but feel deep anger at my mother for abandoning me to a family that refused to accept me. And yet, something deep in my soul pines for a connection to family—any family. Being in my 40s now, I realize that my time to connect with my birth family is fleeting. The Catholic agency that facilitated the adoption has my birth mother’s information, and is willing to provide it for a fee.

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But, I wonder how I would reach out to a birth mother who gave away a son and now has a daughter? I want to be brave and take the chance that she will accept me for who I am, but I think I would break to have a family reject me for a third time. Being transgender is inherently traumatic, but it also feels like something I dealt with a long time ago, and doesn’t measurably affect my career or marriage these days—I worry that this would unsettle the peace in who I am, which I fought so hard to find.

What advice would you give? Should I be content with an amazing marriage to a man who loves me unconditionally, or reach out and risk another rejection by the family I yearn for?

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—Confused

Dear Confused,

I know nothing a stranger says can make much of a difference after what you’ve gone through, but I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced these two distinct and painful family losses. It’s no one’s place to tell you how you ought to feel toward any of your parents, including your birth mother, and I can’t know the precise circumstances that led to her decision. But she was likely told and likely believed that she was surrendering you to a safe, permanent family—to parents who would love and support you forever. In disowning you, your parents obviously did not fulfill their obligation to you—but in a way, they also broke their word to your birth mother, who trusted them to do right by you. I wouldn’t be surprised if she sees it this way as well, and if so, I hope and really want to believe that she would feel empathy and compassion for you.

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Of course, I cannot tell you what you’ll find if you do reach out to her. Adoption reunions are deeply complex, each and every one unique. It’s possible that your birth mother might not be in a position where she can have the kind of relationship or provide the sort of connection you long for. She might be a bigot, or just not be the kind of person you want to be close to. She might not have space for you in her life, even if she fully accepts you for who you are. She could wind up being a kind of distant family friend figure, in sporadic touch with you, happy to hear from or see you but not a major presence in your life. Or she could prove to be precisely the sort of loving, fully supportive family member that you want and need. There are a million possibilities, and as someone who’s weighed a decision like the one you’re weighing, I can’t pretend there is no emotional risk—this is a choice only you can make for yourself. I will say that, despite the risk and the difficulty and all the emotional repercussions, I have never regretted searching for my birth family.

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I always encourage adoptees considering a search or reunion to remember that you don’t have to do this alone, and you probably shouldn’t! If you decide to reach out to your birth mother, the agency may or may not have resources you can avail yourself of; their staff should at least be familiar with adoption reunions and can let you know more about what to expect (though I realize you may or may not be comfortable talking with a social worker at a Catholic adoption agency). I Am Adoptee might be a helpful online resource for you. I believe it’s most important to think about the support system you already have in your life—your spouse, other chosen family and friends, ideally, a good therapist, if you can find one—and let these individuals know, to the degree that you want and are comfortable doing so, how you’re doing and what you need from them as you consider and/or go through this process. Remember, these are the people who’ve been here for you, shown up for you, all along. They are the ones who will still be here, regardless of what happens or doesn’t with your birth mother, who will make sure that you are not alone.

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I hope that whatever decision you make feels right, and is honored and supported by the people who love you. And I hope you experience whatever measure of peace can be found in choosing the path you believe is best for you.

• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is 7 and just started playing organized sports. He played on a basketball team and is now playing baseball. He really enjoys learning the game, playing, and socializing. He is happy when he hits well and a little bummed when he doesn’t, but sports are not life to him—they are something he enjoys doing.

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To that end, I sometimes let him miss practices or games. Baseball especially has been hard on our normal schedule because it keeps getting canceled and rescheduled based on weather. There are times when practice is at 2 p.m. on Saturday, but then gets pushed to 6 p.m. and then to the next day. It’s the same with games. People tell me this is just how it is with baseball, but I find it frustrating. Last weekend, my son went to a cousin’s birthday party, which was held at the same time as his last basketball game. The plan was for him to go for half an hour then go to his game, but he didn’t want to leave once he got there. A couple days later, we had plans to go to the park with a friend when I got a message that he had baseball practice. Since we already had plans, I let him skip practice and just worked with him on hitting and catching later that day. My philosophy is that my kid is 7, with varied interests, and we are a family that doesn’t just drop everything to schedule around baseball.

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However, this philosophy has been frowned upon by a couple of my friends, as well as my boyfriend, who thinks “baseball is life.” His kids are active in sports and their life is scheduled around it, including vacations. His kids are older than mine, and I guess there is more at stake for them (I say this dubiously, because again, it is just a game; they aren’t playing college or pro ball), but I understand commitment to the team and all that. I am surrounded by sports-loving people and have never understood it. All the sports I have played are mostly individual (running, tennis, golf), and I just get satisfaction out of doing my best, beating my own PRs, and having fun.

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I would like for my son to have that same philosophy and choose what makes him happy, especially since he is only 7. But I do worry that I am not doing the right thing because these are not sports I’ve played, and it’s not a culture I buy into. Am I doing my son a disservice by letting him skip practice or games if we have other plans? Is signing my child up for a sport making a commitment to schedule my life around it?

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—Not a Baseball Mom

Dear N.B.M.,

No, you don’t have to organize your entire life around a sport, though of course some people do. I get what you’re saying about the fact that your son is only 7, and you like and relate to his more laid-back approach to sports—it’s good that he’s thinking of it in terms of fun and improving his skills, not living or dying by the scoreboard. And I understand that it’s inconvenient to get a last-minute text about a practice or game that was moved, and you won’t always be able to drop whatever you’re doing and rush to the field. But of course, the team is also counting on players to generally show up—if not enough do, sometimes they can’t play (or, in some sports, they might not have any substitutes).

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You are not unique in craving a reasonable middle ground; I don’t know a single parent who hasn’t noted or complained about the ways in which multiple children’s activities can conflict with other activities and interfere with family life. Do your best not to miss practices or games, because others are actually counting on your son (and all the other players) to be there. But don’t feel too bad if he’s sick or there’s an emergency or a really important family event, and he has to miss.

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I notice you’re thinking about this in terms of “culture”—team sports aren’t your thing; why are other people so intense about them? etc. But I really don’t think you have to be all-in on raising a future All-Star to get why the team needs most players to be there most of the time if they’re going to practice and play and be a team. I promise, you don’t have to buy into the notion that “baseball is life”—just think of this commitment as teaching your son to show up with and for his teammates.

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Want more advice? Check out Pay Dirt, Slate’s newest column tackling thorny questions on money and relationships. Read the first column here.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a kind, creative, generally happy 10-year-old daughter who never seems to have a best friend. She gets along well with all of her peers, but has a consistent friendship pattern: She makes a connection, gets close to someone, and then gets rejected or left out because the other kid has an established “best friend.” We talk a lot about how well-liked she is by her peers, and how she always finds a connection no matter where she is—but she’s hurt that everyone else seems to have something she doesn’t. I hate seeing her hurt, and I worry that it’s partly my fault because I haven’t cultivated mom-friendships in a way that encourages people to include her. (I really have tried—I’m very involved at school, and before the pandemic, I tried to invite other kids over or schedule playdates.) But I think she’s past the age where I can help manage her friendships. Should I try to help her, or let it be?

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—Worried in Watertown

Dear Worried,

I’ve experienced this at various points in life, as I’m guessing many readers have as well. One thing to remember is that there are so many types of best friends—best friends specific to certain times or locations or experiences. Now I’m glad I have best friends from growing up, a best friend who lives close by, best friends far away that I text every day, etc. To me at least, it feels more important to have quality friendships with people you like and trust—who like and trust you!—than to have one dedicated bestie for all seasons. But I also understand how powerful and important the idea of a best friend can be, perhaps especially at your child’s age.

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Her lack of a best friend is not your fault and likely has nothing to do with you at all. And it’s absolutely true that you can’t manage her friendships at this age—although you can still suggest friend hangouts and activities, and help coordinate details/transportation/etc. with other parents as needed. It’s also beyond your scope to somehow provide a BFF who doesn’t exist. I think there’s not much more for you to do, really, except let this be: Listen to her, let her want what she wants, and share whatever feelings she has, and help her understand that her friendships will most likely shift a lot over time; new friends will always be coming and going. If it’s really important to her to have a best friend, I’m guessing that she’ll have the opportunity eventually.

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— Nicole

More Advice From Slate

It sounds like a bad joke, but my cheating husband stepped into the street, got hit by a semi, and died. Instead of going through a difficult divorce, I have inherited all his assets and am a very wealthy woman. I have no idea how to deal with any of this. I held a memorial and didn’t stay long. I felt like a fraud. Friends told me that his mistress showed up in tears. Apparently she is a single mom, and my husband was paying for her apartment and her son’s private school. Am I crazy to want to reach out and maybe help her? My circle of friends runs the gamut from glee to indifference about her fate. My husband and I had been drifting apart for a while before he died. I can’t process anything right now rationally and could use an outside perspective.

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