Ever wondered when to have sex and money conversations with your kids? My suggestion…take it slow and only share when they are ready. You have to be alert and on guard for these moments or you could make a mistake, like I almost did the other day when this happened to me…
The chore of walking our dog is a daily ritual. As I lasso him up for another stroll my six-year old son asks to join us. Sensing this would be a great bonding experience I say, “Sure buddy, come on” and we head off into the subdivision.
The first few minutes are filled with the usual blathering that can only come from a six year old. I’m not even really paying attention given his topics have no connection to reality. I mean really…what’s the point of responding in depth to questions like “Can Spiderman shoot his webs underwater?” or “What if animals controlled people?”
Oh boy (cue eye roll). This is going to be long walk. Think I’ll keep the responses simple. “I don’t know, bud.” “Oh yeah…that would be crazy.”
Then, in the midst of the mundane, comes THAT topic every parent knows they will have to address but is never quite ready for. And it started like this…
“I wish I had a little brother.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Because they are cute when they are young.”
Now a smart parent would have stopped right there. Leave that statement hanging in the air with no place to go. But I’m losing focus because I’m starting to have an intelligent conversation with my six year old son. How often does that happen?
Wanting to continue yet not invigorate his hopes of a younger sibling, I bring a dose of reality to his little request by saying…
“Well bud, I’m afraid to say you are not getting a younger brother.”
Oh crap. You know that moment when you’ve unintentionally opened the floodgates to a place you don’t want to go? How could I have not anticipated the “Why” question? Stupid parent! Do I really want to discuss THAT?
“Because mommy and daddy aren’t going to have any more kids.”
(In the back of my mind I know this statement isn’t going to satisfy him.)
“Why not?” he says.
(Told ya. Maybe I can just restate what I previously said and throw him off.)
“Because we just decided not to have any more?”
“Well, how did you do that?” he continues to probe.
I’m now faced with that dreaded parent dilemma…when and what to tell a child about THAT. But he’s only six.
He doesn’t know yet what all his body parts can be used for. (We are still calling IT a po-po for crying out loud.)
He doesn’t know yet “it takes two baby, to make a dream come true.” (Uh, can we mute the Cialis commercial please!)
He doesn’t know there are certain procedures either a man or woman can take or have to keep THAT from leading to a baby.
Should I really open this can of worms at six? Is he ready? What damage might I cause if I tell him more than what his little mind can process?
Feeling stuck and unprepared for this discussion, I did what any sane coach would do when backed up against the end zone on 4th down and 30 to go…I punted.
“We just did bud…so now about Spiderman…”
There Is a Time For Everything
In general, I play things close to the vest when it comes to divulging certain details of my life. It doesn’t feel right to disclose my thoughts or plans to others before I’m ready, or for that matter, before they are ready. Certain things are best kept quiet until just the right time.
Yet I know others don’t share this philosophy. They believe in sharing everything and all things with everyone, including THAT topic with their lower elementary age kids. I’ve heard kids spew forth terminology and information about THAT which would make an anatomy teacher’s head spin. Where do they get that at six? Only three sources I can think of – TV, friends or parents.
I believe that’s unhealthy. A six year old doesn’t need to know the explicit details of how human bodies interact with one another to allow a baby to come into the world. There will be a time and a place for them to learn that “A” into “B” creates “C”. When their minds and bodies have matured they will be ready. Our 13-year old daughter knows.
But even she won’t fully understand until…well, you know.
The same principle should be followed when it comes to having money conversations. Kids don’t need to know all the intimate details about a parent’s financial status at six. Here’s why.
Money Conversations and Sharing Details With Kids
Kids know at six that money has value. They’ve seen it buy stuff. What they don’t grasp is the “how much” concept.
Have you asked a kindergartener recently how much $100 will buy? They probably say something like a house or a brand new sports car. They haven’t come to understand how far money will go when purchasing items.
So having money conversations with a six year old where they are told that you have $250,000 in your 401(k) for retirement would be like my wife trying to explain to me the complications of the IRS tax code. I’m just going to glaze over after awhile because it doesn’t compute (Sorry honey…it’s true). I’ll say, “Wow…that’s crazy” but not really get it at all.
A second issue centers on their ability to control their speech. Kids say the darnedest things, do they not? How often have you said something to them in private only to have that slip from their lips in public when you weren’t expecting it?
“Daddy says my teacher doesn’t know what she’s talking about” (proudly announced by said child in a conference with the principal).
“Shhh, don’t say that!” (as you profusely apologize or backtrack by claiming you didn’t mean it that way).
So there may be some issues about your financial life that you don’t want to be made public. Would you really want everyone in your circle of friends or say at church knowing you are a multi-millionaire? That could create problems in how some people relate to you or what they expect from you. Your kid will gladly volunteer that information because the filter on his or her lips hasn’t quite fully developed. Better save those money conversations for later.
Finally, there is the issue of attitude. I don’t want to raise kids who feel entitled based on my wealth. They will have to earn their own way with a hard work ethic and discipline. If that’s my desire, then I could scuttle my own ship by sharing too many details at an early age. They may come to rely on the bank of mom and dad for everything, especially if I follow through on that by giving them all their heart desires.
A Timeline for Sharing Money Specifics
So what money conversations can you have with kids and at what ages are certain details appropriate?
Above all, young kids need to feel loved. Implied in that love is them feeling secure. So whether a person is working to get out of a mountain of debt or already has enough money saved for college education, young kids have to feel their needs will be met. As parents, we need to communicate confidence in our financial situation, even if it’s a dire one. Let them know that, even if it’s going to be a struggle, they will be OK.
I don’t think that’s being two-faced. It’s shielding them from adult stress and money pressures they have no ability at six to help solve.
When our kids turned six we started teaching the most basic money concepts they need to know at this age – giving, saving and spending. The money conversations we had with our kids at this time were about giving to our church every month – but we didn’t tell them how much. They knew we were putting money into savings but didn’t know how much. And they knew we had a budget but they weren’t allowed to sit in our monthly spending plan meetings to see how much was going towards food, clothing or bills.
But they did learn the basic principles and starting doing each one of those things with the commissions they earned for doing work around the house. That was a financial victory at age six.
By the teen years kids have figured out if they live in a “poor” family, a “rich” one or somewhere in between. They figure this out intuitively based on observation and comparison.
More importantly, they are growing into a stage where openness should be a priority. Openness helps create trust and what parent doesn’t long for that from their teens? So at this point I’d expand the money conversations and begin to peel back the layers of the onion to shed a bit more light on financial details.
I’d do this mostly in relation to what their most pressing needs are going to be in the next ten years – budgeting their own money and paying for college. By 13 most kids are mature enough to sit in on a budget meeting and begin to see how that works. In turn, they will learn how much money mom and dad make in a year and where that money goes.
They also should be brought into the “paying for college” money conversation. I’d say by 15 kids need to hear how much mom and dad have already saved for college, where the rest of the money is going to come from and what their responsibilities will be, if any, in regards to paying for it. This time frame coincides nicely with their entrance into high school where grades and SAT scores begin to matter towards scholarships.
Depending on the maturity of the child, I’d also consider sharing with them at some point in the mid-teen years if they are to receive any type of money when they turn 18. Many grandparents set up funds for their kids to be given to them at this age. Preparing them for that event and the responsibility that comes with it should be a priority for parents.
But I still wouldn’t reveal yet how much I’d saved for my own retirement or what my net worth is. Those issues are better left for adulthood.
I’d consider sharing the final specific details post-college, as I’d want to start the process of communicating my estate planning and wealth transfer goals.
Plus, by that age I’d have a sense of their financial maturity and ability to handle such information. Believe it or not many in their 20s might check out on their work ethic if they knew mom and dad were worth millions and were leaving it all to them.
Keep It Close to the Vest
What you do will of course be up to you. I realize we all have our own scenario that makes having money conversations different. And much of this does have to do with the maturity of the child, how you’ve raised them and what they are capable of bearing.
I’d just assume peel the onion back a little at a time when it comes to sharing the intimate details of my finances with my children. I’m not willing for my young kids to stand over my shoulder and watch as I update my net worth in Quicken. Just like THAT, there will be a time and a place for having those money conversations, but it’s not at six.
Questions: At what age did your parents start having money conversations withyou? What specific details did you know about your parent’s financial situation as a child? Did that knowledge affect your attitude about money or your work ethic in any way? When do you think it’s appropriate to discuss net worth with a child? Has your child ever said something about money or sex in public you were embarrassed about?