Discussing Financial Concerns With Preteens
Source: Tween Parent Staff
It's all around us. Talk of the economy and it's impact on our lives, the people we're close to and people we don't even know. It's hard to avoid. And the little tween ears are perked up. They know something just isn't right.
While many of us have had personal hiccups along the way, with job changes or other challenges in our finances, the breadth of gloom has rarely been as prevalent or far-reaching financially as it is today. Which, of course, begs the question of how much information we should share with our middle school aged children. It's clearly a personal decision, but tweens are well beyond the stage where we can count on it "going over their heads."
The common advice among experts is to share information, but not too much. It's a balance. It's hard enough as adults to have a clear understanding of the economic factors that led to our financial dilemma. As a preteen, with no point of reference and no control, the result can be anxiety producing, to say the least. While we may be very careful as parents to filter serious talk of financial woes when our kids are present, we can't shield our tweens from the plethora of media and dramatic economic reporting focused on the situation. And, we can't filter the chatter of friends and family as the situation is all too often openly discussed. But, again, as the primary adults in our kids' lives, we can do our best to offset the grim news by infusing a touch of optimism and a sense of security.
Dr. Michele Borba, speaker and educational consultant, was recently a guest on the radio show, Oprah and Friends. She indicated, "kids handle crises based upon how we handle them." The importance of remaining calm is emphasized. She also highlighted that, as parents, we should only give as much information as the child needs to know at that time. She summarized by saying, "Most important, stay talking to your kids. A lot of times during a crisis we try to cover up and think that if we don't give them information it will help them. Kids aren't getting information just from us; they're getting information outside and most of the time it's wrong, which fuels anxiety." So keep the lines of communication open. Answer questions, tackle issues and soothe anxiety.
Rand Conger, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis suggests the importance of calibrating the discussion based on age. For an older child, he recommends initiating the conversation as follows: "I know you've heard about how bad the economy is right now. Things will be tight at home for a while but we're working hard to try to make it through this." He states, " a big concern for tweens in particular is what their friends will say about your family's financial situation. Let your kids know they are not alone." The situation is affecting almost everyone in one way or another.
Janet Bodner, author, talks about how to discuss the economy with your kids on NPR. She claims, "kids will always take you literally. Watch what you say. Don't use dark humor in these situations because kids do think in terms of black and white. Very basic information goes a long way."
Still others view the circumstances as a learning opportunity. Marybeth Hicks, a columnist and author points out, "I think there is a silver lining for parents and families. I think this economy is going to give parents the opportunity to regroup in terms of the values that we're teaching our children with respect to money and materialism. I think they need to learn that waiting for something, delaying gratification, sacrificing, those are important aspects of character development."
Practical Ways Help Your Tween Through These Hard Economic Times
- Maintain routines and keep other changes to a minimum. During difficult times, routines are a great source of predictability. While everything else may seem to be at odds, if kids can count on certain set patterns at home, they're likely to feel a greater sense of security.
- Reinforce that the current financial picture is part of an overall cycle. It's happened before, it will happen again. Once we're through these difficult times, our economy will get healthier and things will look up.
- As a role model, you can demonstrate how to address issues and make decisions during difficult periods; illustrating a level of confidence can highlight a useful life skill for your tween. Regarding finances, show your tween that you're being more considerate of your discretionary spending. This can serve to reinforce an appreciation for special purchases and help your preteen think through the difference between wanting something and needing something.
- Reduce family stress by creating special time together and enjoying each other's company. In uncertain times, your child needs you more than ever. Family meals offer a wonderful opportunity for everyone to stay connected. Fun activities can also provide a source of stress relief. A family movie night could be a great distraction; there's nothing like a slapstick comedy to lighten the mood!
- Tie together the association of environmental challenges with savings. Use the current economic circumstances as an opportunity to promote conservation. Talk about turning lights off after leaving a room, taking public transportation (or walking!), recycling, etc.
- Don't look to your child for emotional support. You can let them know you're concerned, but kids depend on their parents for security, and when parents are tense and upset it can cause them to be anxious. While honest communication with kids is important, parents should be careful to follow your child's lead; listen to questions and provide information in an age-appropriate way.
- Reduce partner conflict. Studies show that during tough economic times, constant parental conflicts can be emotionally damaging to kids. Take a breath and put off "active partner discussions" until you're alone with your partner.
- Ask for help from family, friends and other resources to provide some relief for your tween. Involve a relative or friend who cares about your child to spend extra time together. If you need some advice or perspective, call a school counselor or psychologist or talk to your doctor for advice.
- Minimize news programs when the kids are around. When you really think about it, the news reported on TV often offers a dismal view of what's happening in our world. On top of that, there's usually no impact we can have on the issues presented. As adults, we can handle that reality. It might make preteens feel powerless.
Dr. Richard Gallagher, Director of the Parenting Institute at the Child Study Center at New York University offers sage advice, "The bottom line is reassurance." He points out that people who grew up during the Great Depression often remember it fondly. "They didn't need a lot of things to have a family that functioned well. They were able to do other things even though there were stresses and strains."
Remember, above all, reinforce that good things lie ahead.
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