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High fashion, high finance

Driving my 13-year-old son and a friend home after a day in the city, I listen to them chat as they toss a catalog back and forth.

Earlier in the day, they installed "brake enhancers" on their already well-rigged mountain bikes. Now they're studying other ways to accessorize.

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They stop at the "body armor." It's a chest protector worn by hard-core downhill racers, and it runs about $200. It's made of Kevlar, no doubt, or kryptonite.

Both boys are interested. I would have been, too, at 13. The difference: These guys have friends who own the stuff.

And an inkling that maybe they should own it, too.

Like a lot of parents, my wife and I may need brake enhancing occasionally when it comes to spending on the kids. (We chipped in half on the $600 mountain bike, for example.) But we don't feel that we're all that indulgent.

We recoiled at the anecdotes in the Aug. 6 Time magazine story on the inordinate spending power of American youths - 10-year-olds renting limos for birthday parties, a teen's first car being "nothing special" unless it's a Mercedes. (What economic downturn?)

Brand-name quests in the clothes arena used to be limited to athletic shoes. Today they extend to pricey visors, pants, and hats.

Many kids now make apparel a priority purchase - and work so they can buy. They pursue these goods with financial clout that rises throughout high school.

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A recent First USA Financial Index found that college-bound teens were so used to making money that only 4 percent said they'd miss their parents' cash.

They may get a crash course in the wider world of expenses. But they'll love the way they look.

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