Teach Your Kids About Money By Embracing These Three Roles

One of the best gifts we can give our children is to teach them how to use money wisely. In order to do that, it’s helpful to embrace three parenting roles.

The Gatekeeper

There are several parenting books that have helped me in my journey of being a dad, including one I’ve never even read. Its title alone is enough to challenge me, convict me, and spur me on. It’s called, Be the Parent.

The book’s central message is right there on the cover. As parents, our responsibilities include setting boundaries and making what are often unpopular decisions.

In her book, Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, Boston College Sociology Professor Juliet Schor points out that when parents allow children to have screens in their rooms or to watch a lot of unsupervised TV, they are turning their backs on what used to be a much more commonly practiced parental role, that of gatekeeper. In essence, they are giving marketers direct access to their kids.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 19 percent of children age one or younger have a television in their bedroom, 29 percent of two-to-three-year-olds have one, as do 43 percent of four-to-six-year-olds. One-third of children under the age of six live in households in which the TV is almost always on. No wonder Nickelodeon tells prospective advertisers it “owns kids ages one to twelve.”

Keeping televisions, computers, cell phones and other such devices out of our kids’ bedrooms and limiting their screen time overall are important ways we can fulfill our role as gatekeeper.

The Teacher

You don’t need a chalkboard and formal class time to teach kids about money. Daily life offers countless teaching opportunities. It just requires bringing our kids into the conversation – letting them know about our decision-making process.

I remind our kids from time to time that running water excessively or leaving lights on in the basement costs us money we could be using for more enjoyable things. I showed them our most recent electric bill the other day. Little things like that can start to make an impression. We also talk about trade-offs we’re making, or things we’re saving for.

When watching TV with his kids, or using other media, one dad I’ve heard about plays a game called “Identify the Lie.” I don’t believe all marketers and advertisers are liars, but it’s helpful to teach our kids how to interpret marketing messages. What’s really being communicated about that brand of clothes? What type of person does the advertiser say wears that brand? Can wearing a certain brand really turn you into a certain type of person?

The Role Model

Of all of our parental roles, being a positive role model by practicing good money management habits in front of our kids is, by far, the most important. As some wise friends pointed out before we had our first child, when it comes to teaching kids, more will be caught than taught.

When your kids hear you and your spouse talking about money, what do they hear? When they watch what you actually do with money, what do they see?

I can’t recall my parents ever overtly teaching me specific lessons about money. However, the way they lived spoke volumes. They were very good at living within their means, expressing contentment with life’s simple pleasures, and valuing quality products over trendy products.

As you think about how you’re teaching your kids about money, what are some examples of how you serve as a gatekeeper, teacher, or role model? Are there any other roles that you’ve found helpful?

Are you in a small group at your church? If so, why not tee up the idea of going through the Money. Purpose. Joy. material for your next study?


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