Money Talks

My high school age granddaughter received her first paycheck for her summer job. This led, with great pride, to opening her own bank account. Apparently, some banks have checking accounts for high school age children with various protective restrictions attached. She is now able to write checks on her account and learn, hopefully, to keep an accurate balance.

Of course, many young people today have had experience making their own purchases with gift credit cards they have received, or cards to buy iTunes and the like. Unless they have kept a record of what they have spent on a credit card, they may be confronted with insufficient funds, unable to buy something new they wanted.

The old saying is that one should not talk to others about money or politics. Apparently, according to a recent Merrill Private Wealth Management study, too many parents carry this over to not discussing money or its management with their children. They think their job is to talk to their children about sex, drugs and drinking, but are uncomfortable talking about money. The study’s authors attribute this to fear and control – the fear to relinquish that control and the deeper psychological issues around money.

The families in that study reflect a high-income group with issues of inheritance involved. However, the questions raised seem to have more general application. Surely, money as a means of control is apparent between parents and children – and also has been cited as a factor in relationships between husbands and wives.

Parents are familiar with the pleas, or demands of children who want them to buy toys or treats they see in stores, or that friends have received. Uncertainty about how to respond to this is an ongoing question, whether to simply say no, talk about the expense involved, or even criticize a child for wanting too much. Part of the control issue may be that if children think you can afford it there may be no reason to deny buying what they want.

But this is connected to many issues in parenting that involve the question of authority. Is your authority as a parent related to money? Is money the source of your power? It may seem that way to children who are prevented from getting what they want. Also involved may be an implicit comparison to other parents, putting pressure on parents to provide what other children have. A mother who was against buying an Ipad for her young son discovered he was the only child in his class without one.

This points to the question of values, which are part of establishing priorities, both of which come into play in decisions involving money. There are many ways that we communicate our values to our children but the way we spend money is an important one. Saying “no” to buying ice cream before lunch is one kind of value. On the other hand, buying the toy the child wants raises an issue of priorities.

As adults we know we have to save to buy certain things we want but we may also decide that something else is more important. Waiting for what you want is especially hard for young children, and what is desired right then and there may seem unquestionably to be the most important. Learning that you can’t have everything you want is a learning process that develops with maturity.

What we forget is the learning part, and that as parents we are teachers. Our answers to children need to be more than a simple yes or no. We can sympathize with how hard it is to wait for what you want while explaining that the money we have must also pay for many other things. Like everything else we teach our children we speak to the developmental level they are at.

Money does talk but parents have to interpret for children what it is saying.