Do adults take financial stress out on kids? No, according to a recent study. The study found that child abuse has actually declined nationally in the U.S. in spite of the economic deterioration. Of course, this could simply be the result of a decade-long effort to educate parents and teach them non-violent ways to deal with kids. But the interesting aspect of the study for us is that at least when it comes to financial issues, we don’t seem to take it out on our little ones.
This is very good, of course. No child should ever be abused, and no child should suffer because of their parents’ issues. But reading this study got me thinking. Sure, we should never abuse our kids – financial troubles or not – but should we attempt to completely shield them from our financial worries? Should we make the effort to pretend that things are normal, or is it OK to share our worries?
The Case for Pretending Everything’s Fine
Children have their own worries. We may sometimes dismiss these worries as unimportant, or as lesser worries than ours, but in my opinion that’s usually a mistake. In their own world, kids’ stress is very real, and very powerful. They may not worry like us about putting food on the table or saving enough for retirement, but school and social troubles are very real for them. And anyway, the fact that they don’t need to put food on the table does not make them worry-free in this respect. It just means they are completely dependent on us.
If you agree with what I’ve said so far, then you’ll agree that burdening kids with grownup issues is a mistake and that we need to shield them from our own worries, so that they can focus on their own lives and on the huge task of growing up and learning so much. Sharing with our children that we are dealing with financial issues and that we don’t have as much money as we used to will cause unnecessary stress and feelings of helplessness, especially because there isn’t much they can do to help.
The Case for Sharing Our Worries with Our Kids
On the other hand, one could argue that children are part of the family, and that even if kids today don’t contribute to the family’s finances, our job as parents is to prepare them to life by teaching them basic financial concepts, including saving and budgeting. A recession is a great opportunity to reinforce the importance of living within one’s means, having a well funded emergency fund, being free of debt, and being in a place where you will be OK even if you’re out of work for many months.
Another argument in favor of sharing financial worries with kids is that they will sense something is wrong so there’s no point in trying to hide it from them. If the parents are stressed and they don’t discuss it with their children, the kids will be even more worried, because they will fear the worse. Simply telling them that there’s a global recession and that everyone has less money these days so Mom and Dad are a little worried right now but are dealing with it and we will be OK is much better than not saying anything and letting them sense the stress in the house and worry about it.
We Have Chosen To Talk About It
In my own family, we have made the choice of talking with our kids (almost 9 and 11) about the recession. We explained that people all over the world, including us, have lost money and are earning less, and that we need to make sure we don’t spend too much. We also explained that we will still be making donations, but that most of our donations will now go to homeless shelters and family services – not that “green” or health causes are not important, but right now we feel that our top priority is to help people find jobs, try to keep them from becoming homeless, and supporting them if they do lose everything.
I don’t think we caused our kids unnecessary stress when we shared with them that the world is facing a recession and that we need to change our behavior accordingly. I know they would have overheard us talking about it anyway. I do suspect that my older daughter was worried, but we assured her that we will be OK, and I don’t think she would be less worried had we not discussed the recession with her.
David’s Note: We were quite poor when we grew up, but I would never know if my mom never told us a few years ago. She pretty much kept the harsh reality of our financial situation hidden from us, which allowed my sister and me to grow up happily and without worries.
It believe that you should use financial realities as a reason to explain to your kids of specific decisions, but not talk about financial troubles in the general sense. What I mean is that if your expenses are tight, you should let your kids know that they have to cut back on some of the niceties they were enjoying because of the new reality. However, talking about money problems in general is too vague and difficult for most children to understand.
What do you think? Do we need to shield our kids from financial worries, or openly discuss these issues with them?