Search
Explore

Investing in Our Kids. Should we give our children financial advice? Babble.com

When we give children financial advice, what are we really teaching them?

by Maria Laurino

August 6, 2009

400x236.jpg

12

With our economy in a major meltdown, it’s no surprise that we’re being bombarded with advice about our personal finances. But in the past year, the emphasis of that advice has made a surprising shift: the media, schools and banks are all telling us that we need to teach our young children about money, before it’s too late.

Take “Fiscal Fitness,” a course for grade school children which teaches those “as young as eight the nuts and bolts of money management”: a former banker brings her multi-slotted piggy bank into classrooms to instruct children on financial skills like saving and investing. Or the newest attraction at Epcot Center, “The Great Piggy Bank Adventure,” a series of games in which players, guided by a talking piggy bank, “move levers to ride the currents and capture falling coins before they’ve been reduced in value by the evil wolf and his sinister inflation machine.” (This attraction is sponsored by investment firm T. Rowe Price; the bank ING is also getting into the action with its newly launched gaming website for kids, “Planet Orange.”) One recent news segment showed six-year-olds writing checks and swiping credit cards in an updated version of the classic board game Monopoly, which now comes with its own credit card machine. Is this how we teach our children well? At four they learn to wipe, at six to swipe?

I remember my first hesitation about introducing the concept of money to our son. As a two-year-old he was given a “dinosaur bank” as a birthday present. The mother handed the gift to me saying, “My kids just love watching the money go down and build up.” Our son would feed change into the blue mouth of the dinosaur. Each penny, nickel, dime, and quarter clanked its way down a long wooden neck carved like a corkscrew until reaching the plastic globe belly with a triumphal ping. The belly grew bigger as the loose change accumulated, and only a screwdriver could open the bank. The money was elusive – seductively piling up and ultimately out of reach.

I didn’t want my son to horde his money, savoring the pile at first, and then longing for all that change to buy some toy he had in mind. I felt that once such a mindset developed and the belly of the beast was finally opened to let the change flow out, no toy would ever compensate for the empty feeling he would have staring at the penniless plastic globe in the belly of the dino.

So I made a simple rule. Every Christmas season we would open the bank, count the coins, and put them into individual paper rolls – the most fun activity – in order to cash them at the bank. Then we’d donate half the money to our local soup kitchen and my son could have the rest to either spend or put in a savings account. Once we established that dino helped to create our holiday soup kitchen project, I felt better about its trickle-down neck, perhaps an intuitive reaction to my aversion to trickle-down theories.

The idea that we should teach young children more about finance and credit in a money-fixated culture seems to me like helping a shipwrecked passenger in the middle of the Atlantic by tossing out a noodle from the swimming pool. If we weren’t so obsessed with individuals making as much money as possible – rather than acting collectively to help improve the lot of the community – we might not be in the predicament we are today. So why not use the short and elusive time of childhood to teach the great virtues, not the little ones?

When we give children financial advice, what are we really teaching them?

by Maria Laurino

August 6, 2009

400x236.jpg

12

I think about Natalia Ginzburg’s essay “The Little Virtues,” in which she writes:

As far as the education of children is concerned I think they should be taught not the little virtues but the great ones. Not thrift but generosity and an indifference to money; not caution but courage and a contempt for danger; nor shrewdness but frankness and a love of truth; not tact but love for one’s neighbor and self-denial; not a desire for success but a desire to be and to know.

One of the most difficult challenges parents face teaching our children those great virtues, is that we live in a time in which we have taken rationalism and reason to an extreme. I remember an essay I read in the liberal American Prospect several years ago that, at the time, seemed so absurd to me I thought it was a parody of advice for women abut money, success, and family roles. But far from satire, Linda R. Hirshman’s essay was later turned into a book-length feminist manifesto called Get To Work. Hirshman chastised those who chose to stay home to raise their children and argued that soon after college, women must focus solely on finding the money. She advised them not to major in the liberal arts because, “the purpose of a liberal education is not, with the exception of a minuscule number of academic positions, job preparation.”

“Money is the marker of success in a market economy,” Hirshman explained. “It usually accompanies power, and it enables the bearer to wield power, including within the family.”

I’m wary of the ways in which America has corporatized the education of children. While Hirshman’s advice may help to shelter women from later financial woes, it also commodifies every aspect of our lives, including what we choose to learn and how we care for our children and aging parents (contract out, Hirshman tells us). But what about the space in which reason does not speak? Why do some parents decide to earn less in order to spend more time playing and laughing with their children, hopefully helping to shape them into moral and compassionate human beings?

That, of course, is the elusive skill of parenthood, finding the right cadence to navigate the day, and seeking a rhythm to move us gracefully through the years. Teaching lasting lessons at the correct time, knowing when to be playful or serious, learning to follow one’s instincts in lieu of advice from the many experts who have elbowed their way to that very large child-rearing table.

As the years passed since my little toddler put change into his dino bank, I’ve become even more wary of the ways in which America has corporatized the education of children. Our son is now a sixth grader in public school and large chunks of his year are devoted to preparing for statewide math and reading tests. Not that I’m against proficiency in math and reading, but these scores have become the most important measure of classroom performance. Children take “predicative assessments” throughout the year to gauge how well they will do on the annual tests. Such rigid performance criteria have helped create, in the words of education writer Jonathan Kozol, the “miserable drill-and-kill curriculum of robotic ‘teaching to the test.'”

When we give children financial advice, what are we really teaching them?

by Maria Laurino

August 6, 2009

400x236.jpg

12

Our current education system functions under the belief that our children are, in the words of political leaders, “human capital,” and we must teach them well – not for any grand desire “to be and to know” – but to ensure their effective participation in the Gross Domestic Product. Math and reading test results are pored over like a corporation’s quarterly return sheets. School chancellors are more likely to come from a career in business than in education.

In a telling sign of corporate times, a pilot program that began in New York City, and whose core idea is branching out nationwide, pays fourth and seventh grade students from poor families to take the standardized math and reading tests. The kids earn more money each time their scores improve. In one school that chose to use monetary incentives, the teacher had the children shout, “Show me the money!”

Yet in this fast-changing world, creativity, not rote learning, is what our children will need to navigate the new century. Consider these facts from a popular technology video spreading its message across the web: “The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today’s learners will have ten to fourteen jobs by the age of 38; the top ten in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004; we’re currently preparing children for jobs that don’t exist in order to solve problems we don’t know exist yet.” Our children will need to think abstractly, flexibly, and imaginatively – more like poets than accountants – to deal with these daunting facts.

How do you determine what’s lost when you teach fewer classes of science, art, music, and history to achieve gains in reading and math test scores?

Our children will need to think abstractly, flexibly, and imaginatively. How do you measure the value of parents’ decisions to cut back on work to spend more time with their children?

Those who want us to emphasize financial prudence over all other values – like the Ottawa Business Journal columnist who writes “The most valuable lesson you can teach your kids is how to manage their finances ” – have good intentions for our children’s well-being. And yet the collapse of our most solid-seeming financial institutions shows just how precarious a foundation this is. Maybe the answer isn’t just to teach kids more about money, but to try something new: teaching them to be decent, imaginative, caring human beings.

Article Posted 6 years Ago
share this article
facebook twitter tumblr pinterest
See Comments
what do you think?
share this article
facebook twitter tumblr pinterest
See Comments
what do you think?
what do you think?
close comments
Subscribe to the
Newsletter
Welcome to
Settings
Sign Out
Follow us on
Social