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Family Finances
Does Talking With Teens About Money Help?
An article from David R. Smith at

Mom and Dad approach young Carly to have “the talk” and begin by taking a deep breath. Carly knows what’s coming and her palms begin to sweat. Is this dreaded dialogue regarding sex? Her desire to get a tattoo?

Nope. It’s about the family checkbook.

A Nervous Tick
Parents and youth workers know there are several things that make teens nervous: a rebellious zit the day before prom, the SAT’s, and the 14-pound, unopened cell phone bill lying on the kitchen counter. But some think there may be a new source of stress plaguing kids today: having to talk with mom and dad about the family’s money problems.

In a new survey by Marist Poll, over a thousand adults were asked if they thought talking to their children about money woes was helpful or not. A whopping 68% of parents thought talking about financial challenges would only make matters worse while 27% of parents believed it actually helped reduce stress. 5% of parents simply didn’t know what to think. (You can look at the table of findings for yourself to see the various breakdowns across age, gender, and geographical location.)

But kids have to talk about money (and its challenges) at some point, right? When’s the right time to broach this subject with kids?

This same survey delved into that question as well. Interestingly, most parents were split into one of three camps. 23% thought “five and under” was a good time to start. 28% thought an age of “six to nine” was appropriate. 27% believed waiting until the child was “ten to twelve” years old was best. (You can view this table of findings as well.)

It appears that most parents are hesitant to have conversations with their children about money, and when they do, more parents would rather talk later than sooner. After all, parents just want to avoid causing their children stress.

But, does this strategy truly help teenagers avoid stress that is related to money problems?

A Day Late And A Dollar Short
No parent wants to add stress to teenagers’ lives; we all know they have enough stress to deal with as it is. However, because money is such a huge factor in all our lives, giving proper coaching at the right time(s) is crucial.

Sharing solid financial advice is one of the bedrocks of effective parenting; it’s a topic we must absolutely get right. In a recent Youth Culture Window article, we explored the devastating financial habits of an indebted generation that’s living in the red. If we hope to affect any sort of change, we as parents must act.

Parents who neglect talking with their children about money because they want to save their kids some stress may already be a payment or two behind; most teenagers are already talking about the economy and how it’s affecting their lives. They’re not just griping about the reduction in their allowance, either. Teens know there are fewer jobs available to them right now, and as a consequence, they are spending less these days.

If the conversation has already started, we might as well jump in and share our two cents.

Pulling Our Heads Out Of The Sand
A common human strategy is to not talk about bad news. Maybe we think others won’t notice; maybe we secretly hope problems will fix themselves. Regardless, the tendency for most is to get tightlipped when it comes to trouble…and financial trouble is no exception.

Let’s face it: we wouldn’t be having this little chat right now if the economy hadn’t tanked a year ago. But the current economic climate – as grim as it is – can provide the perfect opportunity to share some wisdom with our children…if we do it correctly.

I don’t suggest parents pull together a family meeting with the kids and say, “Due to the economy, we’re gonna have to downsize and let one of you go,” but there are a few simple strategies we can employ to make sure our teenagers gain exposure to a more holistic view of money.

  1. Share with the kids what you’ve done right…and wrong. You don’t have to completely bare your economic past to the kids; that wouldn’t necessarily be helpful. But simple lessons like, “Mom and I are really glad we didn’t buy the brand new, gas-sucking Hummer last year.” But don’t forget to also toss in a couple of lessons you’ve learned the hard way. “Dad and I should not have used a credit card for all those meals we ate at restaurants.” As parents, if we choose to be, we are the most significant influence on our kids. Giving them a front row seat to our examples may allow them to capitalize on our successes and avoid our failures.

  2. As often as possible, mix finances with faith. That’s what Jesus did…a lot! Now I’m not talking about a “name it and claim it” theology, but read through Matthew’s Gospel and you’ll see how many times Jesus taught about money and faith, or used money to teach about faith. Because He knew how important it was, Jesus had a lot to say about how we view money, earn money, and spend money. If we truly understand how important money and faith is in our lives, we will treat them accordingly when it comes to teaching our children.

Parenting has never been easy. Unfortunately, it’s probably never going to be easy. However, we can’t remain silent on such important topics like money, hoping to shelter our children from some stress. If we say nothing at all, the stress our kids go through regarding money may be far worse one day. For more help on parenting kids today, like “leading by example” and learning “how to talk with teens,” check out David and Jonathan’s Parent Seminars.

David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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