Sometimes mothers ask me what my thoughts are on teaching teens about money. How do we do it? At what age should we (or could we) start? And what expectations should we have for our kids?
Warning… this is a long article!
These are my thoughts (more or less organized).
My Thoughts (and Tips) on Teaching Teens about Money
First a disclaimer: I have been blessed with 8 children, ages 10 to 27, so I do have a little bit of experience with this issue 😉
When it comes to teaching teens about money and getting them motivated to earn and save, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Of Nature and Nurturing
Each of us is born with our own inherent nature. Some of my kids were natural “capitalists” who wanted to earn money from an early age. One of my boys started selling his little plastic toys to the kids in the neighborhood when he was about 5 years old. He was always mesmerized by money. Some of my other children, though, are less materialistic.
At the same time, part of our kids’ personalities is nurtured – they learn from what they see (by example) and not just by what they hear (by teaching). I had three girls before the arrival of my five boys. From the start, my daughters were busy babysitting my little ones, and then they were running backyard summer camps for my kids and the neighborhood kids. My boys got to observe my girls earning money. They saw firsthand the connection between effort and earning, and they began to understand what money could buy. That motivated them to earn themselves.
Understanding Your Teen’s Mindset
The next thing to keep in mind when teaching teens about money is that teenagers have a lot of growth and development going on in their bodies and in their brains. That’s not an excuse for them to do nothing or to never pitch in, but it helps you understand what’s going on with them. I have watched my helpful, active, smiley pre-teens transition into sluggish, unmotivated teens who flop themselves down on the couch and just hang out there. (I promise you they get over it, and they become really lovable again.)
Between the ages of 12 to 15, freedom matters to teens more than ever before. Having the ability to earn money can help give them that sense of personal control and freedom that they’re craving.
One summer when I was in Junior High School, I desperately wanted to go to music camp. But my dad had just been fired from a job, so there was no money for that. My desire to go was so strong that I decided to take matters into my own hands. I started doing everything I could to earn money: tutoring, cleaning houses, babysitting. I scrimped and saved till I earned what I needed.
At the end of the summer, I was so proud of my accomplishments. Plus, I loved the freedom that having money gave me. When the Christmas season rolled around, my cousin offered my older brother a job in his store, which he refused (sluggish teenager, maybe???). I eagerly asked if I could have the job, and I got it.
Helping Your Teens Create Healthy Money Habits
But your teen’s need for freedom doesn’t mean you should never set money boundaries. When teaching teens about money, sensible limitations combined with the freedom to choose within those limitations, create responsible and healthy habits. (To see this in action, here’s a quick video I recently recorded with one of my client’s success stories on how she set money boundaries for her teenage girls.)
The way to set healthy money boundaries with your teen is to find a way to address the issue from the side and not from the front. A frontal attack is usually destined to fail with a teen. You’re going to lose and injure your relationship with your kid, and it may lead to your teen having an unhealthy relationship with money and earning as an adult.
You should accept the fact that your teen’s willpower and hormones are much stronger than your fuse. So, when you see that a head-on collision is approaching, take a side path instead. That means sometimes you have to get creative…
One of my teens was so unmotivated to do anything with her time one summer, that I thought I might strangle her. Okay, not really. But you get the idea. One of my friends runs a summer camp for girls. I asked her to please call up my daughter and offer her a job, and I would actually pay my friend to pay my daughter (Necessity is the mother of invention… This was a matter of “life and death”). It worked! And saved our relationship as well as my sanity for the summer.
Realize also that by the time your child is about 16 years old, he is very much set in his ways. With older teens, they think they know it all. And they usually don’t like taking advice from their parents. You can still set money boundaries and try to guide them, it’s just a bit harder.
Meet your teen where he is
If you want to introduce new money habits to an older teen, approach him where he is at right now. What does your teen spend money on? How does he expect you to spend money on his behalf? How does he choose his clothes, shoes, entertainment activities? Who pays for these things, and how is it decided how much you pay? Create boundaries for your teen that help spark his motivation to earn money. The more you can make your teen feel like it’s her choice to change or grow, the better. Even if they really don’t have a choice.
You can create limits on the amount of money you will give him. Not because you want him to work, but simply because it’s good to set limits. If your son asks for something, tell him “I would really love to help you do xyz.” Or, “That sounds like a really great idea. I would love to help you out with that. But it’s not a priority for us right now.” Be empathetic and strong at the same time. Focus on the word priority. He may understand it as a priority in your spending decisions, while for you, your priority is in helping him develop better money skills.
If you have a strong relationship with your older teen and he’s open to learning from you, you could also share what you’ve learned about saving, investing, and compound interest with him- but not in a direct preachy kind of way. Just be natural and excited about the things you’re learning and wanting to share with him. Your enthusiasm might just wear off!
In summary, teaching teens about money is not about forcing them to work or save. It’s about helping your teen make her own healthy money choices. You set limits while respecting your teen’s thoughts and feelings. Be clear about your financial goals and expectations while allowing your teen some healthy input into how she can reach those goals.
In the end, you may be surprised by how well your teen responds.
If you need some help bringing healthy money habits into your home, I would love to see how I can support you. Feel free to contact me me for a free discovery call.
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