Parents are always choosing between competing priorities for the children. When our children start school, we prioritise our children’s social skills. We teach them how to interact with other children and make friends at school. As the children progress through primary school, we prioritise our children’s resilience to cope with the demands of school life. We worry about bullying and make sure we expose them to teamwork activities such as team sports, etc. In the final years of primary school, some of our children begin puberty. We prioritise helping them cope with the effects of the hormone on their mental health and general well-being. We deal with the children’s behavioural issues as they enter the turbulent teenage years.
It becomes our priority because it is other parents’ priority
I have noticed a funny thing about priorities. Often we make something our priority because other people have made it their priority. When we gather with a group of parents and talk about what our children are doing, we start to evaluate our priorities. It is not so much about keeping up with the Joneses as it is about the trigger for us to reflect upon and evaluate our existing priorities. Are we focusing on the ‘correct’ areas of developing our children’s life skills?
Unfortunately, many parents do not prioritise teaching their children about money when their children are young. If this is not a priority, we don’t talk about how we are teaching our children about money. If no one is talking about it, then other parents in the group also do not see it as a necessity to teach their children. It’s not that we don’t want to teach our children about money. It’s just that there is no trigger for us to reflect on whether and how we are teaching our children about money because it’s simply not a topic of conversation in parent groups.
Teaching teenagers money lessons for the first time is difficult
Because of this, many children end up not learning about money until they are teenagers. This is the time when parents start to notice how much their children are actually demanding from them. It is also the age when many teenagers get a part-time job. This is when many parents begin to think that maybe they should now teach their children about money.
But teaching a teenager an important life skill for the first time can be challenging. This is not confined to teaching them about money. It includes other life skills. Parenting a teenager presents unique challenges that parents of young children do not have to deal with. A teenager has many influences that shape their thinking and behaviour. Their hormones cloud their judgement and they make irrational decisions. They are very aware of opinions from their peers, social media and others in society. Parenting a teenager is a turbulent time. During these times, we hope that we have instilled enough good values in our children to help them navigate the choppy waters.
The best age to teach is before they become a teenager
The best time to teach our children good money habits is before they enter these turbulent times. Money habits are intrinsically tied to our values, beliefs and attitudes about money. Young children unquestionably accept their parents’ values, beliefs and attitudes. When they are teenagers, children start to develop their own set of values, attitudes and beliefs. They start to break away from their parents’ values, attitudes and beliefs about many things (not just money). They start to question the correctness of everything their parents tell them. Trying to cultivate good money habits for the first time in a teenager during this period of self-discovery is fraught with difficulties.
There is no doubt that parents of teenagers have unique challenges. The ideal time to start shaping our children’s habits with money is when they are young, teachable and amenable to our ideas. The good values, beliefs and attitudes about money that we instil in our children at a young age will become their barometer for money decisions they will make as teenagers. They will of course still make mistakes. But those mistakes do not have catastrophic consequences because their inner values, attitudes and beliefs will keep those decisions in check.
Tell other parents how you teach your children about money
One way all of us can help parents think about their children’s financial literacy is to talk about how we are teaching our children about money. Once we start telling other parents what we are doing, this becomes a trigger point for other parents to start thinking about whether they are teaching their children about money. Thinking may not necessarily lead to any actions, but at least it’s a trigger to take action.
So the next time you gather in a group with other parents, what will you talk about?