With all the buzz about Wall Street, job losses, and the world economy, I thought that when I asked a teenage friend of mine how her father's business was doing, she would respond with a qualified answer. I was surprised to hear her say, "Oh, I do not know. I do not understand that stuff …". I noticed she was wearing trendy clothing, had a new "iPhone" and a designer handbag, so I figured her father was probably doing alright. Or was he?
It's nice to extend the naivete of childhood as far as possible, but when it comes to adolescents, is it really best to keep from them all the details about our finances, or should we initiate discussions about current events, the tough times people close to we are going through and, sometimes, tell them an "acceptable" truth about our own money situation?
As a child, I was kept in the dark about money until my late teens, if you can believe that! I had no idea what my parents earned and just knew that if I asked for $ 20 to buy something, I could probably have it. I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not even consider the origin of money; I just thought of it as a never-ending flow of funds that came from parents to pay for things that kids needed.
In reality, we were poor. Although my mother had a job, my two older sisters (and a few aunts) were the ones who helped out on occasion to keep our bills paid. But I did not know that. The day I came face to face with my delusions about life and learned "where money comes from" was the day after my mother passed away.
I had just graduated from high school and I remember feeling scared and stupid when faced with questions like, "How do I pay the bills?" and "Where do I get an apartment?" – things that were really never explained to me. I was very sheltered, and this method of childrearing, although I'm sure a choice made by parents with good intentions, did not really protect me from anything. Rather it shielded me from learning how to take care of myself, which I believe is a priceless gift and the duty of all parents to their children.
So could now be the perfect time to talk to our kids about money?
Although we may want to protect our children from knowing too much about the hardships of life, sometimes this is a golden opportunity to teach them about earning money, planning for the future, and appreciating what they already have. I'm not saying we should alarm them to the point of making them worry or feel insecure, but I am a big believer in letting older children in on the workings of the household finances and what they can do to help out.
The greed of the past two decades did much harm by positioning the "Haves" front and center, flaunting their worth and reckless spending to the "Have-Nots" and sending a message that said, "Unless you are one of us, you are nothing. " Now is the perfect time to adjust our priorities and teach young people how to survive and thrive, to set goals and work toward their dreams, and about what really matters in life.