Which topic do parents talk the least about with their kids? Sex, drugs, or money? I wondered the answer to this question after hearing a bright young woman who works with teenagers appeal to her middle-aged audience to talk to their kids about sex. Some in the room began to get uncomfortable when she said the s-word. But then, she cited some frightening statistics about pregnancies and STD’s that crossed lines of race, age, class, and school district in my hometown. It seems even 12-year-olds from upper middle class neighborhoods have curiosity, compunction, and dare I say, cravings, we would like to think are reserved for adulthood.
Money and kids have frightening statistics, too, although they may not show up in children until they are adults. The average college freshman still receives too many credit card offers upon matriculation. Who is more likely to have money troubles as an adult: a child who grows up in a household of plenty, or a child who grows up in a household of scarcity? Statistics show it does not matter. What does matter are the spoken, and unspoken, messages the child receives about money.
No matter the wealth status of the household, parents must teach kids to use money responsibly.
Unlike alcohol, drugs, and sex, use of money is not optional. We are forced to use something, every day, which can cause great harm, or great benefit. Small choices we make consistently about money add up, so the habits we develop are critical to success with it. Big choices about money make a big difference, too, so being educated about its power and how to handle it are equally significant.
Sex, drugs, and money talks become easier with time in some families, but in others, even grown children and older parents avoid the topics. Over time, it may be the grown kids approaching the parents about their ability to handle money, and having difficulty. Fifty percent of adults over the age of 80 have some form of mild cognitive impairment. One of the first mental skills to go is how to manage and make decisions about money. Mom or Dad either stops paying the bills, or hands a check to anyone who asks for it. (Loss of sales resistance is another early sign of dementia.) If the family has not established a comfortable conversation about money ahead of time, everyone can be surprised how much damage can be done in a short period. Why not be the parent who tells the kids early on what to do, what to say, and/or who to call if signs of cognitive impairment start to show up? Why not be the adult child who asks for these instructions before it is too late?
The holidays are a time of family gathering, sometimes the only time during the year when families get together. It is a great time to have a family meeting about money. Year-round, though, talk to your kids, or your parents, about the tough stuff that makes children wonder, and adults squirm.