You want to do what's right for your teenager. Sometimes, though, it's hard to know what the "right" thing is, especially where money is concerned.
When they were young, they depended on you for everything, and were, mostly, grateful for what you provided, or at least accepting. The teenage years bring all sorts of changes, hormonal, cultural, physiological, and mental. Adulthood is tantalizingly close, and with it, a slew of rights and freedoms they have never had—including the right to your money.
They may demand, cajole, trick, and even steal from you. For a variety of reasons, often related to your own background and relationship to money, you give in, draining your accounts to satisfy their insatiable appetites. They become like vampires sucking your very lifeblood—the money you have earned and need for your own future. And you, their victim, feel powerless to resist.
They want a car. No: they need a car. Then, they need to buy insurance and gas, and pay for car repairs and maintenance, and want you to provide the funds. And if there's an accident, guess who they expect will pay?
With every outlay, you tell yourself—and them—that this is the last time. Their hunger satisfied for now, they agree. Soon, though, they're back for more. The money vampire can never, ever be fully satiated.
What is a Money Vampire?
Money vampires come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and relationships: your teenage son, your young adult daughter, your romantic partner or spouse, your mother or father, your brother or sister, your closest friend. At worst, they are narcissists, incapable of empathy. At best, they are selfish, thinking only of themselves and their needs and desires—which they can only meet using your money.
Your teenager's incessant demands, however, probably don't lead to a personality disorder. Science shows that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive functions such as planning and impulse control, doesn't fully mature until around age 25. So when your teen says they really need your funds, they aren't necessarily being manipulative: they probably believe it.
Tough Love for Good Parenting
To an immature mind, hearing "no" to an urgent demand or plea can seem like the end of the world. In fact, though, setting boundaries is one of the best things you can do for your teen's healthy development. Remember, you are their primary role model. Do you want them to become who give everything they have to others and neglect themselves?
Respect for money is a crucial indicator of self-respect. If your teen sees you taking care of yourself financially, they will learn to do the same for themselves. What greater gift could you give to a child than self-respect?
Here are four strategies for helping your teenage vampire control their appetite, and start the transformation into a responsible adult:
- Talk through spend-save-give strategies. Teach your teen how you divide your money among these three critical areas, and encourage them to do the same with their earnings.
- Model restraint. Before shopping for your teen, state your budget and discuss how they might meet those fiscal restraints. If sending them clothes shopping, tell them how much they can spend and talk about where to shop—at a vintage clothing store rather than a boutique, or choosing from the sale rack instead of paying full price.
- Pay in cash. Give your credit or debit card to someone whose impulse control isn't fully developed, and you are asking for trouble. Supplying your teen with green gives them tangible evidence of where the money goes, and ensures they won't blow the budget you've set.
- Make them earn it. Don't just be a human piggy bank: make your teen earn their spending money. Give them jobs at home or require they do odd jobs for others, such as neighbors, to get those funds. They might balk but you'll be teaching them the true value of money, and they may adjust their spending once they have to work for every dollar.
Simple things you can do to help them kick their addiction to your money include:
- Require them to pay for their own gas or transportation.
- Have them make a list of wants and needs, and prioritize the "needs."
- Require roommates if you're paying for their housing in college.
- Steer them toward used books or ebooks for their college courses.
- Decline to pay for a college parking pass, suggesting they carpool, bike, or walk to campus.
Tough love can be harder on the person administering it than on the recipient. Unlike your teenager, though, you have a fully mature brain able to think and plan long-term.
Saying "no" may be difficult today but, done lovingly and firmly, can set your teen on the path toward fiscal responsibility. Someday, your teen will thank you; your financial accounts will thank you; and you will thank you as you use the resources you have wisely managed to live your best life.
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Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.