Why I’m Making My Daughter Pay for Her Dental Braces

“This is going to hurt me a lot more than it is going to hurt you.”

That was an admonition Mom or Dad occasionally gave me and my sister when we were growing up — and I know we weren’t the only kids to hear those words either.

Of course, as a kid, whenever my folks said that, I naturally assumed they were full of, well … you know. I’m sure my sister did too. After all, how could Dad ever make such a ridiculous statement when it was my backside that was getting tanned?

Anyway, it was only after I became a parent myself that I finally realized what Mom and Dad were talking about. It ain’t easy meting out punishment to your own kids, but discipline helps build character.

All parents are forced to make extremely difficult decisions from time to time — and those decisions aren’t always limited to disciplinary issues.

Five years ago, the Honeybee and I made the difficult decision to let our impulsive-spending son, Matthew, spend every last dime he receives for birthdays and other occasions. We felt it was better for him to learn from his mistakes while he was a child, rather than as an adult when the financial consequences are greater.

Since then, we’ve watched Matthew waste hundreds of dollars on some truly ridiculous items — a bad financial habit which has occasionally come back to bite him in a big way. For example, there have been times when my son was unable to join his friends on adventures because he was flat broke, and the Bank of Dad refused to extend him additional credit.

Today, my 16-year-old son still has trouble controlling his free-spending ways, but the good news is he’s finally — finally! — beginning to realize the importance of saving. In fact, he recently gave me $100 to save for him that he had received as Christmas gifts. Hope springs eternal.

My 14-year-old daughter, Nina, has seemingly always had good financial sense. She’s always been a prodigious saver, and she has exhibited a knack for earning money ever since she opened her own neighborhood lemonade stand when she was eight years old.

Unfortunately for her, this month I decided to take advantage of her propensity to save in order to drive home another lesson about the importance of personal responsibility.

Here’s what happened: After Nina had the dental braces on her upper teeth removed last year, she had to wear a removable retainer for an additional 12 months to complete the straightening process. Nina was told, on countless occasions, that the retainer was only supposed to be removed from her mouth when she ate, or for cleaning purposes — but it was a request she didn’t take seriously. At all. In fact, I repeatedly warned her that if she failed to keep the retainer in place, her teeth would eventually fall out of alignment and wipe out all the progress that was made by the braces.

Well, you can imagine my dismay when, last month, during a routine check-up, it was discovered that Nina’s upper teeth had fallen so far out of alignment that she needs a new set of braces. The price tag: $1500. I know.

After the Honeybee peeled me off the ceiling and put me in a straightjacket, I gave Nina two choices: 1) Live with her crooked upper teeth; or 2) get a new set of braces — at her expense.

Guess what. Nina’s digging into her savings and buying herself a new set of braces this month.

Now, I’m sure more than a few of you out there think I’m being an ass, or a cheapskate — or both. Fine.

Not that I care.

Frankly, I refuse to reward irresponsible behavior — especially after repeated warnings — and if I picked up the tab for Nina’s braces the second time around, that is exactly what I’d be doing.

By the way, Nina owes a big debt of gratitude to our dentist who, after hearing her plight, decided to give my daughter a very good deal — she’s only going to have to pay him $500 cash.

I wanted to tell Nina that making her pay for a second round of braces is hurting me more than it hurts her, but I decided to pass. Besides, in the grand scheme of life, I’d like to believe she’s never going to miss the money, although I can’t be absolutely certain.

What I can guarantee, however, is that this time around, my daughter will remember to wear her retainer — and I’ve got 500 reasons to prove it.

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

Comments

  1. 1

    fuzzybeezz says

    I am telling my 7 year old to save up for her braces which she will definitely need in about 7 years time. I told her how much it would cost and the amount she has to put aside every month to make the savings objective. (But as a mom, I had made a huge discount on the total cost of braces .. I am not that totally heartless).

    This is to drive home a point that you need to have patience to save for big ticket items. I do not know yet how I will react in 7 years time if she does not meet her savings objective. Will I cave ? :)

  2. 2

    says

    I like you parenting style and plan to mimic it with my own son when he is older.

    Having said that, when you daughter chose to continue with the braces at her own expense, I would have probably chipped in 50% or there abouts, as I think that is a reasonable compromise.

    That way she learns that it can cost money when you make mistakes, but at the same time she isn’t too badly financially impacted at such an important age when she is likely to be thinking about college soon.

    Good story – thanks for sharing.

  3. 4

    Jen from Virginia says

    I love and whole-heartedly agree with your decision!!! My 9 year old son will have to get braces within the next 2 years I am told and if this same situation occurs you can bet I will follow your example (but may lower the amount if he is still pretty young).

  4. 5

    Karen Kinnane says

    “Unfortunately for her, this month I decided to take advantage of her propensity to save…” At first I was shocked, although it would be good training for her as a productive member of society to learn that the unproductive will suck her financial life’s blood though taxes with the collusion of the government. THEN I read the rest of the story and YOU WERE TOTALLY RIGHT LEN, the SECOND, and unnecessary set of braces should be paid by your daughter. Good for you! Otherwise she might end up as one of society’s leaches, feeding off the workers while moaning that they aren’t given enough by “the government”. She should pay for the second braces. And how nice of the dentist to give her such a generous frequent flyer bonus!

    • 6

      Len Penzo says

      Yes, Karen, we are very grateful for Dr. Todd’s generosity toward our daughter. You can bet Nina will be sending him a nice thank you card with her payment.

  5. 7

    Deb E says

    Good for you! My two boys are now 23 and 21 – living on their own – and just like your two. I truly believe it’s better to have them learn those lessons early because it can cost them much more when they’re older!

  6. 8

    Matt C says

    I did not get braces until late, I was 17 – and my dad had me pay for the down payment on the braces (~$1700). At the time I was furious – how could he do that to his son he loved so much? When in reality – it forced me into taking care of my teeth. When the orthodontist said to put bands on – I tripled them up so it would go faster. I had my braces off within 8 months. It even kept me responsible to this day, It has been 9 years since I have had my braces taken off and in that time I have missed wearing my retainer fewer then 10 times.

    sometimes the hard lesson’s pay off! I agree with your decision Len.

  7. 9

    Gina says

    Medicine isn’t supposed to taste good — it’s supposed to make us better.

    Nina will appreciate your decision to make her pay for new braces when she’s older. This is a valuable lesson worth much more than $500 and it will stay with her for the rest of her life.

  8. 10

    Meghan says

    I paid for my own braces and my teeth are still straight. My parents paid for my brother’s and his teeth are way crooked now. I agree with your decision!

  9. 11

    Corinne says

    Maybe it’s because Im not a parent, but I don’t see this as a great thing. She’s 14, 14 year olds make dumb decisions and when you became a parent, you accepted responsibility for those decisions. I see that $1500 better served for when she’s in college, but I guess you find being frugal more important.

    • 12

      Len Penzo says

      I appreciate the comment, Corrine, but this has nothing to do with being frugal. I could easily afford to pay the $1500 tab.

      I find it more important that my daughter learns that there are consequences in life for negligent behavior.

      I guess if I was more concerned about being her best friend, I’d let her off the hook — but I prefer being her Dad. :-)

  10. 13

    says

    Did the orthodontist say definitely the reason she needs braces again is because the retainer wasn’t used as prescribed?

    I don’t know, $1500 is a lot for a 14-year old, feels a little rough to me Len. I might have split it with her, especially if it’s not completely clear that the repeat is 100% her own fault.

    • 14

      Len Penzo says

      Yes, Nina’s failure to follow procedures is the reason for her crooked teeth.

      The good news is it’s only $500.

  11. 15

    says

    Nice dentist! And I think this is an excellent decision. My husband and I have paid nearly $15,000 for his teeth over the last 4-5 years. And he loves saving money, so this is torture for both of us. If his parents had explained the future cost of not taking care of his teeth and made sure he knew that he’d be paying it, we would not be where we are now. If I have a kid, they will definitely know the importance of taking care of your teeth…

  12. 16

    says

    I was about to be horrified, but when I realized it was the second set of braces, I got all on board.

    Nice of her to get a cash discount too. $1500 is a lot, but $500 is much better.

  13. 17

    says

    When I was a teenager, my dentist recommended braces as I had misalgined teeth, but said that they alignment wasn’t a problem. It would only be cosmetic. My parents refused to pay for them. So to this day I have slightly crooked teeth. So I have perspective into your decision.

  14. 18

    K says

    As a 4th grade teacher (and recovering only child) I think this plan is right on the money. :)

    Even the best kids fail to grasp how long it takes to earn large amounts of money for the big expense items in their lives that they need. By requiring your daughter to pay for her braces for the second time you are teaching her many lessons- cause and effect, prioritizing, responsibility, generosity of others (aka: Dad first time around, dentist second time around), budgeting and goal-setting.

    Ignore what others have said and don’t back down on this one. If you do you are teaching her that when push comes to shove Dad will save the day. And that’s not say you wouldn’t when it matters, but braces are an issue of convenience and appearance- not necessity.

    • 19

      Len Penzo says

      When Nina really does need me, Dad will always be there to save the day for his little girl.

      This, however, is one of those times where she clearly has the means to save herself if she so chooses — if not today as a 14-year-old, then later in life as an adult with a job of her own!

  15. 21

    Fencedin says

    I’m not sure I agree with this level of tough love, but you’re the parent, so what you say goes.

    What I want to know is, where did you find an orthodontist who’ll do braces for $1,500? My kid’s braces were $4,000 — and that was 15 years ago. I’m told it costs more now.

    • 22

      Len Penzo says

      She only needed a second set of braces on her upper teeth, so the original $1500 quote was not a full set. I think it also helps that I have a dentist who does orthodontia. Finally, it might also make a difference — although I don’t know for sure — that we were paying cash and not going through our insurance.

  16. 23

    says

    Len,

    Great post. As a dentist, I can’t tell you the number of young adults who don’t wear their retainers after orthodontic treatment and suffer relapse. It’s a shame and a waste of their parents hard earned money. Make sure she avoids soda, sweets and chips….unless she wants to pay to fill the cavities after her braces come off.

    • 24

      Len Penzo says

      Thanks, Dr. Frank.

      (Folks, Dr. Frank and I lived on the same street as kids — and he was our family dentist for a long time too before I moved to a new town.)

  17. 25

    says

    Oh man, that’s an expensive lesson, but that’s the kind that will stick. That’s a good example for new parents. I’m having a hard time with my 3 year old. He just doesn’t listen to anything I say…

  18. 27

    michelle f. says

    this is a perfect way to teach cause & effect. her willful behavior caused the need for a second set of braces then there are consequences to be paid for. more parents should love their children so much.

  19. 28

    says

    We also had to constantly remind our daughter to wear her retainer. What a pain. But it did pay off as her teeth have stayed straight. Now we are looking at braces for the soon to be 14 year old son, to start the process all over again.

  20. 31

    harold says

    Wow – she is only 14 years old and it was only $1500. And you fully admit you could afford to pay for them. I wonder how long she’ll resent you for that. Bet she’ll love that dentist for giving her such a break on the cost.

    I always thought braces were right up there with glasses/contacts – necessities for good health.

    • 32

      Len Penzo says

      You thought wrong, Harold. Braces are cosmetic corrections — just like nose and boob jobs.

      Now that you know that, would you pay for a second set of braces?

  21. 33

    says

    I love this. I can see your daughter blogging about this experience at some point in the future, highlighting it as a turning point in her adolescence when she learned an important financial lesson. It’s a tough lesson but one that will contribute to her character and help her become a responsible adult. Kudos!

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