When Should We Begin Teaching Children About Money?

Recently the local news station was doing a segment about how game companies intentionally make children’s games addictive. The reporter gets a father and child on TV for an interview about how the child charged about $3,000 worth of game items to the father’s credit card. When the child is interviewed, he is gleefully telling the reporter how he just clicked the button every time the game gave him the choice to get another boost, coins, or extra lives. The news story got me to thinking, when should we begin teaching children about money?

The child on television is talking to the reporter in a way that made me think this the child still does not really understand that they did something wrong. The tone, body language, and words chosen all point to the kid thinking “I had fun with the game, my dad got mad for some reason, and now I get to talk about it on TV. Look at me on TV.”  If this is really the case and not some kind of dramatization or coaching off screen, someone has failed this child if they spent $3k on a game in one month and still does not understand there is a consequence for this action.  

It dawned on me that the reason I know so many adults who struggle with managing money is because they were not taught as children how to manage money. Therefore, I began talking to my friends and family to get their opinion about what age is a good age to start teaching kids about money. I got a wide range of interesting answers.

I will start with my own childhood. My parents have always been very secretive about money; it is very taboo…we just don’t talk about those things. I knew we did not have a lot and that after my step-dad was injured at work we needed help. I never knew how bad it was exactly but I did know I got free lunch at school because my parents qualified for some assistance.

When I was 17 a friend of mine was taking business economics as an elective and the class had a personal finance month. She began telling me all about the things she learned in class. I realized I did not know anything about managing my money.  I had a job, cashed my paycheck at the bank that issued the check, and gave my dad a little money for my car insurance.  At 17 maybe I should have known a bit more about how to manage money.

My coworker started having conversations with her child when the child was in elementary school. My coworker started with small conversations like teaching her child one does not always get what they want when they want it. Things have a cost and sometimes we have to wait to purchase something and/or save for it. As the child got older my coworker gave her kid a prepaid debit card as a way to teach the daughter how to manage a small amount of money. As the child grew the complexity of the money lessons grew.

Another friend takes a middle ground on this issue. He thinks that you should not start money conversations when children are too young. Just let them be kids as long as they can before putting the pressure of the world on them. This friend is of the school of thought that all you need to teach a children responsibility is  give them chores and paying a small allowance. This way they learn you work for what you have. Then when the child is 14 or so you can teach them about money.  

That is all well and good in generations gone by. But today companies actively build marketing programs to target children. They are bombarded with input at a very young age so my opinion is we need to start teaching them small lessons at a young age. The child does not need to know every detail of the family budget.  But it is a good idea to teach a child that they cannot just click a button and get something anytime they want it.

This is a complex issue and can become emotionally charged. Most parents I know do the best they can by their children and work hard to provide their child with the things they need. However, I think we should consider that one of the things a child need is lessons and boundaries. Teaching a child about money is a life skill that can make a world of difference throughout their whole life.

Any opinions out there; what is a good age to start teaching a child about money?

Respectful comments are welcome. Names are optional to post a comment.  

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