Kids and Money: Leading With Moral Authority
- Friday, July 23, 2004
I was told of a news report about a very dumb criminal in Fort Worth, Texas. Apparently, the guy rode his bicycle up to a taco restaurant carryout window, pulled a gun, and ordered the clerk to give him their money. That's dumb -- but hold on, it gets worse.
He ordered a meal while he was waiting for the money. Well, the money came out before his meal was ready. And, believe it or not, this Einstein hung around waiting for his food. In the meantime, one of the employees was calling the police. Since our biker hoodlum had also forgotten to wear a mask, they recognized him as an ex-employee of the restaurant and gave his name to the police. The law arrived before his meal did and they arrested him right there at the drive-up window! To make matters worse, he proceeded to aim his gun at the police who pulled their weapons and shot him twice. (Fortunately, the wounds weren't life threatening.) On closer examination, it turned out that he was carrying a toy pistol.
As I thought about this incident, one phrase seemed to sum this guy up: Dumb, but fearless.
Is There A Similar Situation In Your Home?
If you're a parent, that phrase may have occurred to you several times over the years. I know it pretty well describes some of the experiences we have had with our kids. I can still remember the time when our son Joshua was peeved with me because I refused to believe his assertion that he was mature enough to be trusted with my car. Call me an old fogy -- but the kid was just 4 years old!
Actually, it's part of what makes a kid a kid -- more bravado than common sense. By their very nature, children are immature. They believe themselves to be far more intelligent than the facts would warrant. And, to make matters worse, there's that time somewhere between 12 and 14 when most kids go through a season of omniscience.
That's where parents come in. Unlike animals that desert their young (or, sometimes eat them) God gave human parents a greater mandate. For better or worse, it's our dubious job description to stick around for the first 18 to 20 years. And, if we're any good at the job, we'll do more than simply be there. We'll aim higher. Our goal is to be our children's mentors and key advisors. We're the ones they should come to for their life-skill advice. Sure, I know that that is a unique idea these days. What with all the buffoon parents on TV sitcoms and the disrespect dished out by society in general, it's tough to maintain credibility through the full 20-year run. But just because it isn't easy doesn't mean it isn't vital.
Many of society's ills can be laid at the feet of parents who have abrogated their responsibilities. That's why I want to challenge you as a parent (especially if your kids are still young) to love them enough to direct and discipline them in all areas of their lives. Stay involved. Don't be shy. Don't be marginalized or intimidated away from your God-ordained responsibility. Just because some other 8-year-old philosopher teases your child about your involvement in his life -- don't back off. Insist that your beliefs and ideas be respected, honored, and followed. It is your duty, not only to your children but to society as a whole, to teach them about Jesus, basic morality, respect, and the appropriate life-skills.
Insulation vs. Isolation In An Age of Affluence
America is the Disneyland of the world. Kids in this country are blessed with a level of affluence that is unknown throughout most of the world. Even those of us who grew up only a generation ago can barely comprehend many of the things today's culture takes for granted. According to the American Express Retail Index, parents and teens spent an average of $550 per child on back-to-school shopping. Teenage Research Unlimited reports that teenagers are spending an average of $84 per week of their own and their parents' money. Wealth in America grew exponentially in the last decade. The Spectrum Group reports that high net-worth households (those with assets of at least $1 million, not counting their primary residence) exploded from 1.8 million in 1990 to 7.2 million by 1999! Today, more than half of all American millionaires are under 55- years old, compared with only 26% a few years ago.
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."
Then, it's a matter of walking the talk. The kids will be watching. If they see you making the tough decisions and lifestyle changes to get your own financial house in order, it will serve as a powerful motivator and example. But, if you slip back into old habits that, too, won't go unnoticed.
2) What parents do with liberty, the kids will do with license. One of the most important things any parent can do is to understand (and accept) this concept. What you do on a controlled, moderate level as a parent your kids are likely to take to the extreme. There are lots of Christian parents who insisted on their "liberty to drink socially" when they had small children, who would give anything if they could change things today. Many of them are dealing with grown kids who used their parents' liberty as a license to drink or use drugs destructively.
The same holds true for family money issues. Whatever your children see you do will tend to have a geometric effect on their behavior. If your children perceive a lack of self-control and good stewardship in the purchasing and savings decisions you make don't be surprised if one day you see the same behavior on their part being played out in an extreme, mutated form.
3) Keep the communication lines open. Like my friend Mike Root likes to say, "If you don't communicate -- you'll speculate." Nothing takes the place of open communications in a family. One of my regular "go to" passages in the Book is Deuteronomy 6:6-9:
"And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house on your gates." (NASV)
Although God was here speaking about the spiritual education parents owe their children, the principal holds even more broadly. As parents we must be good communicators with our children. There have been a lot of times over the years when I was able to parlay a drive to get a Coke, or a fishing trip, or just a walk through the yard into a teaching opportunity. As Christian parents, we realize that whatever the surface topic (school, friends, or financial issues) it all goes back to teaching God's principals for how to live this life and, prepare for the one to come.
Steve Diggs presents the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar at churches and other venues nationwide. Visit Steve on the Web at www.stevediggs.com or call 615-834-3063. The author of several books, today Steve serves as a minister for the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville. For 25 years he was President of the Franklin Group, Inc. Steve and Bonnie have four children whom they have home schooled. The family lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.
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