Kids and Money: Leading With Moral Authority
- Friday, July 23, 2004
Whether you're a part of this new financially elite segment, or not -- this data has a direct impact on your family. You don't have to be wealthy to be a victim of the "wealth factor." Just as a tide raises all boats, wealthy friends affect what your kids want. When their friends buy the newest brand of shoes, or the most popular line of jeans -- your kids will want them, too. And, even if you run with a decidedly middle-class group, don't underestimate the effect the media and advertising have on your children's wish lists.
A big part of parenting today has to do with helping our kids live within the culture, without becoming a part of the culture. It is an issue of insulating them from the pressures and temptations around them without isolating them from the world at large.
Where We Came From
I suspect that many of you are a lot like me. I grew up in the sixties. Things were somewhat different in those days. Back then money wasn't openly discussed in many households. There were several reasons for this:
First, our parents came from a more genteel era. After all, if they had prospered, talking about money was considered vulgar and tantamount to bragging. If they were struggling, they suffered silently-never admitting their pain. Also, remember in those days money was a "guy thing." Dad handled the dollars in most homes, and Mom and the kids heard very little about the family's financial picture except when there was a crisis.
But, I suspect the most important factor of all was a general lack of financial education among most of that generation. After all, these were the people who had fought and won the Second World War. Many of them had sacrificed their own childhoods and dreams for a college education so their kids wouldn't grow up speaking German or Japanese. In many ways this was the generation that abandoned their hopes to give the next generation a future. It's little wonder that they weren't as educated (or, as cocky) as their kids have become on monetary issues.
Three Rules For Teaching Kids About Money
Many people think our society has grown fat and lazy. We have luxuries our parents could only have dreamed of. Imagine -- 2 or 3 cars, color television with more than a couple of fuzzy channels, family arguments over where we're going to vacation this year. Many of us also have greater financial resources and the time to ponder how to invest them. So it behooves today's parents to help their kids understand money and how it works. But to make a credible presentation to our kids, moms and dads have to do some things right, too. Let's spend a minute on three things we grownups need to be doing.
1) The first, and most important rule for teaching your children how to manage money is to set the right example yourself. This is one time when the physician had better heal himself first -- before he starts dispensing pills. Kids are smart and their hypocrisy meters work overtime. To tell a child to do something that you are unwilling to do, not only dilutes the impact of the message -- it dilutes the respect they have for the messenger. To have credibility and moral authority, a parent has to be willing to go the extra mile and not cut corners simply for short-term gratification.
Does this mean you have to do everything right? What about the past -- can a parent regain the moral high ground when the kids know you've made previous mistakes? Sure, but it requires honesty and a willingness to admit the obvious: "There have been times when Mom and Dad have blown it. But, we're learning, and we want to help you kids avoid some of the painful mistakes we've made."
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