Thursday, November 6, 2008

Children and Money--Part #1--An Introduction

In today's world, children and money go together as an inseparable pair: it costs money to raise children, and children today are targetted consumers and spend money or influence how money is spent. There has been a lot of discussion here and on other blogs about how to handle the child/money connection. My next postings are going to be my two cents on what that child/money relationship is, how to introduce it to children and how to handle it in day to day living.

First, most young children are literalists, when they are not being fabulists. They listen to adults speak and they take literally the words that they hear. It behooves adults, then, to be careful when speaking about monetary matters around and to children. When a child overhears an adult say "One more price raise on fuel/utilities/food and we're going to go broke," they are going to take that statement literally, and they are going to get scared. As fabulists they will imagine what broke might mean for them, and it's not pretty. Instilling fear or terror is NOT part of educating a child in good spending/saving habits. Therefore, in my opinion, children should not be privy to the conversations of their parents as regards exact or actual ups and downs of family finances.

If there is an actual worry about how the parents are going to make ends meet, if there is a temporary setback financially, this should not be shared in detail with young children. If a child should ask why certain wants or luxuries are not appearing any longer or are appearing infrequently it should be sufficient to say: "We are being careful about money right now." "Being careful" is something even a young child can puzzle out, since they are routinely told to be careful of their belongings. "Being careful" does not translate to "I'm going to go hungry" or "We won't have any place to live."

As children get older their knowledge increases and their view of happenings in the world gets better. But they are still children. Again, in my opinion, even 10-12 year olds should not be burdened with the total facts and figures of a family's budget. And when some luxury items do not materialize or disappear they need to be told that there is no money for THOSE items, but that regular living will not be affected.

What keeps children on an even keel, what allows them to grow up healthy in mind and in body, is a sense of continuity and steadiness. They trust that their parents will provide for them now, tomorrow and for the tomorrows coming down the road. It's fairly axiomatic that the job of parents is to protect their children; sometimes their job is to protect those children from parental anxiety. Right now money is an issue not just for individuals but for our society in general; we may be heading for a partial depression, or we may already be in one. Prices are soaring and money, for most families, is not available to the extent it was even one year ago. Adults are having money worries, justifiable ones at that. But those worries, in all their gory details, should not be shared with young kids.

So if we are not going to be talking to children about the actual nuts and bolts of our personal finances what are we going to be teaching them about money, good spending habits and budgeting? Stay tuned for part #2.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agreed that children should not be given so much information about family finances that they become frightened. But also in agreement that they need to be told that some things that aren't necessary won't be around now. We have friends that are in a really tight place financially right now but are making it even tighter for themselves because they won't cut back a single one of the extras that they could afford for their kids before. They don't want the kids to feel different is how they say it. I just don't get it.