On the street
I do the dishes and the laundry, but I don’t get paid for it.
Wes: Money can't buy anyone love (The Beatles), may well be the root of all evil (Pink Floyd), especially for those who take it and run (Steve Miller), leaving us to secretly envy those who seem to get it for doing nothing (Dire Straits). But today money is creating increased conflict for teens and their families. I don't recall any ancient rock songs that address this issue, so for the next two columns we'll discuss the deteriorating economy and how it's affecting families with teens.
Money conflicts aren't new, but several trends have raised the heat - most notably gas and food prices, a weak economy and excess debt. This comes after 20 years of economic expansion, low interest rates and full employment. Only the folks my age and up have adult memories of the recessions of the '80s, the stagflation of the '70s and the Arab Oil Embargo that shot gas prices into the stratosphere ($1.35 in 1980). Heavy industry was collapsing in the mid-'70s, as was the farm economy, driving thousands of families off their farms. It wasn't the Great Depression by any means, but it was a far different world than we've lived in since about 1989. Today's teens were born during the economic upswing of the '90s. Consumer goods kept getting cheaper; credit was plentiful and often free. Gas prices edged up but not enough to create a noticeable impact. Even 9/11 did not devastate the family economy as have recent events. So the lessons we learned as kids are opposite of those our children have learned.
Increasingly I see cash-strapped families in which food and fuel are wiping out discretionary spending, forcing parents to rely on credit to get by. Much of the money conflict in these families comes from teenagers who don't understand why the gravy train is rapidly leaving the station. It's time to help them come to grips with the same realities we are facing as adults, and unless you're one of the families who has stressed good economic behavior from early on, it won't be easy.
Much of what our teens consider the necessities of life are quickly becoming luxury items, so it's a safe bet to predict the following changes. The trend toward buying teenagers new(er) cars, gas, insurance, tags, etc., will come to an end because few families will be able to afford one to four teenagers burning $6-per-gallon gas. Some won't be able to afford gas for the adults. Eating out for convenience will decrease dramatically, meaning more food at home and less out with friends. Electronic gadgets and their support systems, including cell phone service, Internet, cable, etc., will drop off, unless the gadget and service people start slashing prices in a hurry.
Obviously wealthier families can keep up the pace, and some of the rest will try. It's hard to give up old habits. But most of us will face cutbacks in the near future. If you haven't started already, today is the day to start talking with your kids about real-world economic issues. We'll offer more tips next week for those talks.
Julia: There are several responsibilities that teens and young adults will have to take on in order to remain money-savvy in today's economy. Bear with me; this may get preachy.
Tip No. 1: Parents must stop giving free handouts of cash to their children. This act is indeed generous, and you're supposed to support your children to some extent, but at some point teens need to learn the value of making, saving and spending their own money. I doubt enough teens realize how much it costs for their parents to take care of them. Tell your teens to get a job or do work around the house to earn their money, and hold them accountable for their expenses. On the flip side, this gives teens a form of control in their life, allowing them to blow their money on a pair of shoes or new ringtone if they choose. It's now their money and their responsibility to make spending decisions.
Tip No. 2: Teach teens to save. I am the last person in the world who should be talking about this because I'm so bad at it. Here are a few things that have helped me get my budget in line. Always have $20 at hand, in cash or on a debit card because that can buy just about anything of immediate need. If you're receiving a paycheck, start putting a third or fourth of it into savings for upcoming events (graduation, school events, holidays). One of the best feelings is having money when you need it and even better, knowing it is yours.
Although I pay for most everything I want with a set allowance and money from my job, I still fall into money pitfalls - spending when and where I want to (Sonic at 10 p.m.), borrowing from friends and turning to my parents for money. However, despite my bad habits, I have learned to be more self-sufficient and independent by earning and spending my money. I've realized I spend a little more wisely and conscientiously each year knowing that it is my cash.
Next week: How to talk with kids about economic realities as they are developing - rather than waiting for a crisis.
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Julia Davidson is a Bishop Seabury Academy junior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.