What we obtain too cheaply we esteem too lightly

Andrew Wake Newsletter, Parenting

“What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly” Thomas Paine (1737-1809)


Many children get lots of things without much effort. If you look through bedrooms or playrooms, you will probably find many items that have been not treated with respect. Children are often showered with gifts at birthdays, Christmas, and it is increasingly common for them to receive gifts when they go to another child’s birthday. You only have to look at how many coloured pencils most children have, and how they are looked after, to see the truth in Thomas’ quote; our children get a lot of things quite easily, and often value them too cheaply. It is a bit unfair to blame children for not valuing pencils when they have so many of them.


One parent I spoke to tried to manage the glut of toys with their primary school aged children by placing a limit on the total number of toys (excluding items for sport or creativity) they could have out at any one time to ten.   On receiving new toys their child would have to decide whether to keep them, and which toys would be replaced if they did. The excess toys would be placed in storage, and every year a decision made to keep those in storage or give them away to the Salvo’s.

These parents also had a low threshold for toys being uncared for, and would put such items away, and they had to be purchased back. In this way they made obtaining and keeping a toy or item more expensive both in effort but also in actual money.


Access to TV, internet, computer games or YouTube videos could be considered things to be earned. Obtaining and keeping the access could be connected to the completion of more valuable things such as engagement in learning, exercise, homework, chores, family requirements, etc.


I have had a run of parents complaining about how their children treat their mobile phones and laptops, including broken screens, spills, and carelessly losing them. Having a child put their own money towards an expensive item helps focus their mind on its value. And if the item is initially a gift, being clear that repairs will require them to contribute to the repair has a similar effect.

This would be the same for having a smartphone with its private access to the internet. It would need to be earned, and if misused it will be removed until it is earned back. Simple phones like the old Nokias meet parental safety needs but don’t have internet access, and they won’t frequently disengage a child at school and at home while they are trying to learn. A snapchat from a friend is probably 164 times more emotionally valuable than learning algebra, and highly likely to disengage them from what they are studying.

Perhaps the first phone your child gets could be just a cheap phone, and when they show care, self-control and engagement in their learning they can then graduate to a more expensive smartphone, one they had to put some money into. And you keep the Nokia version in case the smartphone needs to be removed for a time until it is earned back.


“What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly”.

Trust and freedom within a family are too valuable to be given away easily. They should be earned to obtain, and maintained to keep.