Inspirational

Economically Speaking

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Mary, the “mom”

While driving yesterday, I heard a news report about teens and their reactions to their families cutting back spending, including allowances, in the face of the economic crisis. The report indicated that in recent months teens are spending less, presumably because of cutbacks in allowances, although I’m sure loss or unavailability of part-time jobs plays a role as well. Apparently many teens’ reactions to such a situation are to be upset or angry, according to the report. This really caught my attention. My own kids have been remarkably supportive about cutbacks we’ve implemented. In fairness, we’ve been able to avoid cutting the things we know are most important to them, but still, many smaller things have been cut that do affect them. Just as I was getting worked up that it wasn’t fair to generalize in such a way, the report continued that such a reaction from teens was often a sign of fear for their families, as opposed to selfishness. Phew!

But, this raises a point. We need to talk to our kids about money in general and this economic crisis in particular. Even if your family isn’t feeling the pinch, if you’re not talking, your kids may be imagining the worst. I definitely need to sit down with my kids and be more specific than “we can’t afford that right now” or “money is tight”, because who knows what they’re worried about. Apparently, they might be more worried about their parents or their college fund than that new pair of brand name jeans.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to communicate with your kids about economic issues, ParentingTeensOnline has an article, The Money Talk, about just that, and a very helpful article with suggestions for conversation starters. There was also a post on a Business Week blog, Talking to Your Teen About the Financial Crisis.

So, “Dad”, what’s your approach to discussing the financial issue with your teens? Rach, what about you? Do your parents talk to you about money? How do you think parents should talk to their kids about financial stress?

Rach, the “teen”

Most of the teens I know whose parents are struggling with the economy (so, all the teens I know), are reacting really well. Some of our parents have talked to us, and some of them haven’t. Only recently did my parents start including me and my brother in talks about money. That is, we know how lucky we are that our family saved up and planned early for college and other long-term expenses like that.

For most of the teens I know, this means that they need to get more financial aid from colleges, or that they have to give up driving their own car around. It’s also been tough for us in the job market. Most of my friends are unemployed, not because they want to be, but because it’s freaking hard to get a job.

So, I think it’s really important for parents and kids to talk about money issues in the family. Money affects way more than just the parents, and “mom” is totally right – kids imagine the worst. So, be honest with them.

Lauren, guest teen blogger

Many teens are worried about their family and the situations they’re in. The teens that are only thinking about designer jeans probably have enough money that they’re not feeling the crisis going on. So most teens aren’t thinking about it in a selfish way, but teens are feeling it and worrying. Parents who aren’t letting their kids know are certainly upsetting their teens. As a teenager, I know that a lot of the time we pick up on our parents’ and other people’s emotions when they think they’re hiding them well. Parents think that kids not knowing they’re stressed about things will keep their teens less stressed, but really it’s exactly the opposite. So parent’s make sure your teens understand your current situation with money.

Personally, I’m hearing that money is tight on daily basis. We don’t need to be reminded when it’s not at that moment relevant. It can be upsetting to hear so often how stressed parents are. Also, the stress for parents seems to carry over to more than just money. It makes parents stressed about work and life in general. It can make them stressed about things that have never been a big deal before. So you have to find a happy medium. You need to let your teens know about your current situation but don’t make your money situation a huge part of your teen’s life.

Brad, the “dad”

Talking about money has always been a balancing act around our house. My wife comes from a well-off household where she never really wanted for anything, including a college education, and they never talked about money. I came from a small-biz lower-middle-class household where there was virtually no extra cash ever, at all, especially for college…and we never talked about money, either. So we decided from the beginning that we would be open about our finances, whether the news was good or bad.

Easier said than done. The hard part is keeping them apprised in an age-appropriate way without scaring the heck out of them when you have to say, “We can’t afford that,” or “we really can’t pay all the bills this month.” The trick is keeping them in the loop, but going light on the details…and always giving them a sense of hope for the future, even when you’re not necessarily feeling that way.

On the one hand, the girls have responded with wonderful strength and resilience throughout our years of economic roller-coaster, and I think it’s made them far more realistic about the world, and far more appreciative of every dollar we have, without being fearful. On the other hand, I feel constantly guilty – truly, deeply guilty – that we haven’t been able to give them whatever they wanted without worrying about the cost. ‘Cause part of me says that’s what Dads are supposed to do (even if it’s not all that healthy for the kids).

My advice: be honest, but tread lightly. And don’t underestimate your kids: they understand a lot more than you realize they do, and they can handle a lot more than you imagine. And yes, absolutely: if you don’t let them know what’s going on, they will almost certainly assume the worst. So talk, already. And teach them how to balance a checkbook!

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