Miss Conduct

Advice: Kids these days? They mark up fund-raiser candy and pocket the difference

Is this really just evidence of an enterprising spirit, or an unethical move by some students?

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A teen I’m close to told me about a school fund-raiser where kids were selling candy for $8. Some other kids bought the candy and resold it for $12, keeping the difference. I thought the kids should have been encouraged by their parents to donate the extra money to the school. The teen told me there was nothing wrong with “enterprising spirit.” At the very least, I felt this would have been a good opportunity for parents to initiate a discussion about ethical choices. Am I off base?

F.C. / Boston

You’ll probably not look at this teen quite the same way again, will you? Because you’re spot on about the ethics, of course.

Personally, I find making children sell things, particularly to fund their own education, to be so inherently repellent and immoral that little outrage remains for those who might sabotage that grotesque practice. Kids are socially pressured to sell useless, wasteful items to fund unrelated activities — time is occasionally taken away from these activities, in fact, to devote to hawking products. Naturally extroverted kids whose parents have a strong network of co-workers and extended families will always do better than quieter or less-connected peers. It’s a lovely set of lessons this practice teaches.


Which is why, were they my children, the first questions I’d want to ask would be “How did you get the idea to do this?” and “Why did you think it was a good idea?” . . . and then I hope I would really listen. And answer their questions honestly, as well, because the conversation shouldn’t be about you, the enlightened adult, making those kids act right. It should be about them and you sharing the challenges of being a decent person in an imperfect world, of finding a balance between “earning, learning, and returning,” of valuing your own labor and demanding what it is worth while also giving generously of yourself.

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You could also, as a concerned member of the community, get more involved with the school. If there must be fund-raisers, perhaps they can be more directly related to the needs of the school or charity they benefit.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology. Send comments to