Sex, Drugs and Nuclear War: What's Missing from Our Dinnertime Conversation?

Why did I choose the above title for my latest money article? Because we spend more time discussing sex, drugs, and nuclear war with our offspring than we do discussing money.

reprinted from Forbes

According to research cited in Psychology Today, sex, drugs and nuclear war don’t even specifically come up as topics we worry about each day. Financial issues do. So, why do we avoid it?

I’m not implying that an open discussion about drugs is not important; it is and it must be discussed. But, as I have pointed out to readers of my books since the 1990’s, these are topics that our children may not have to deal with every day; however, they have to deal with money issues every day, like it or not.

Even if we are not actively using money, it is working for (or against) us. As we sleep, our rents or mortgages are mounting, our utility bills are adding up, and on the positive side, our interest and earnings are accruing on our investments. Our assets are even affected without us proactively doing anything; your house is, hopefully, appreciating in value and we know that your car is depreciating in value.

This topic of money has to be brought into mainstream conversations with your kids and grandkids. Money issues should not be whispered about, but rather openly discussed. Any secret takes on more importance than it warrants. Money is the business part of life, nothing more and nothing less. It does not define you or your values; it’s how we function in a practical world. We develop habits around our relationship with money. My goal is that you help to shape positive attitudes with and for your kids and grandkids.

Through my years of pioneering the topic of “Kids and Money” in the 1980’s, working with children and their parents and grandparents and raising my own kids to be financially responsible, one insight became clearer and clearer to me: The lessons of financial exchange can be applied to social exchange. Teaching children about money is not teaching about greed or teaching them to become soulless, like little Ebenezer Scrooges.

Money is about values, about relationships, about choices, and about self-esteem. The same dollar that’s used to buy drugs can be used to give to charity. The whined-for candy bar or toy, either given or withheld from the mysterious, bottomless well of parent’s or grandparent’s wallet, can be earned money, allotted for an iPad or for college. The spoiled child now becomes an empowered partner in his or her own choices.

Money is always a social issue; it never exists in isolation. You can:

  • Earn It
  • Save It
  • Spend It
  • Share It

Explain to your kids and grandkids that they can’t get it alone; they have to make a social contract with someone else and then fulfill their end of that contract. They can’t spend it alone; they have to go back into society and make buying decisions. They can’t save it alone; some financial intermediary must be involved. And they can’t share it alone; this entails understanding a socially valuable cause to which to give. Giving also involves giving of time, not just money.

This is also a good time to discuss that your kids/grandkids can get money in bad ways — people overtly steal money outright and others con people, which is just another way of stealing. You can talk a little about what happens to bad people who steal. Bank robbers and Bernie Madoff can be a part of this conversation. Include consequences, like; arrests, jail and losing your license to work in the financial field, not to mention that this will be on your record forever.

There is also a subtler, covert way of stealing. It came up when I was appearing on the OPRAH show. We were discussing charging on your credit card when you knew that you could not pay the debt back. Some of the teens cried out that, “The credit card companies sent me the card and I used it. It’s their fault.” Then, a teenage boy stood up from the audience and said, “If I charge on my credit card and know I can’t pay back the money, I’m stealing.” I was really pleased when the audience acknowledged his wisdom by applauding. Make sure this situation and conversation are covered with your teens.

For better or worse, money is the connective tissue that holds our global society together. I buy what you sell and you buy what I sell. As Carl Sandburg said, “Money is power, freedom, a cushion, the root of all evil, and the sum of blessings.”

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