Peer pressure starts the minute your child begins to have other influences besides you. The first time your little one comes home from pre-school with elaborate and fanciful stories about anything from where the butterflies go in the winter to where babies come from, you can figure that peer influence has begun. And after you carefully and reasonably explain how things really work and they stubbornly insist that the stories they’ve heard from their friends are the real truth, then you know that you’re starting to feel the power of peer pressure.
But the full power, of course, comes when they hit middle school. They begin the preteen and teenage years when the subculture emerges in full flower and your kids seem to disappear inside it, talking a language you don’t understand and blasting the house with music you can’t bear to listen to.
Peer pressure for teens and preteens is a powerful influence. But don’t forget that, as a parent, you are a powerful influence, too, although surely not in the same way that you were when they were three or six years old. Teens are smart. And they’re capable of understanding complex ideas. And they do listen, sometimes more than you think.
When your child comes to you with “Amy’s parents let her stay up till midnight and watch R-rated movies,” or “Benjy’s parents never make him clean out the garage,” it may sound familiar? Of course it does. Those are the same lines we used on our parents. Our parents told us, “Then go live with Amy’s parents,” or simply “Well, that’s not the way we do things here.” And do you remember what we did? There sure weren’t many magazine subscription address changes to “c/o Amy’s parent’s house!”
Kids feel very pressured to “keep up with the Jones’ kids.” The best way to deal with the “Jones’ kids” issue is transparency. The more your kids understand about budgeting, where the money really goes and their own roles in the family, the less likely they’ll be to make extravagant demands to keep up with the Jones’ kids.
And if you really listen to teens talking, you’ll discover they really don’t have very much respect for the mythical Amys and Benjys of the world whose parents spoil them and buy them everything they want.
Another issue facing kids is borrowing and lending. Just as some societies distinguish themselves from the rest of the world by setting up elaborate barter systems, an important element of preteen and teenage custom is borrowing and lending money. You’re not going to change that. But you can discuss it and channel it before it becomes a problem.
One step toward helping your children understand borrowing and lending is to incorporate loans into the Allowance Jar System you’re using. Occasionally, your child will want to buy something that’s “on sale” right now or that is some way a “limited-time opportunity,” like spending when on vacation. The purchase price may not be out of range of their budget – they could easily afford it with four weeks of Medium-Term Savings – but they don’t have the ready cash right now.
But if you loan them the money to buy it, are you caving in and abandoning your system? Certainly not. You can work out a repayment schedule, with just a small rate of interest. After all, you’re not trying to make money off your kids. The interest payment can go into a family vacation fund, for instance. The point is that you want your kids to understand how borrowing and lending work.
You can also use borrowing and lending situations to teach your children about establishing credit. If your child repays the loan on time they’ll be eligible for another, perhaps larger loan later. If not…they become a credit risk and won’t be eligible for another loan until they’ve proven their responsibility to your satisfaction.
When it comes to putting these lessons into practice outside the family, one rule changes right away. If your kids are loaning money to a friend, they shouldn’t charge interest. It’s a bad precedent to set between teenage friends.
The most important thing to teach your child is that money lending is an exchange that has rules. If they’re going to lend money to a friend there should be a clearly defined repayment schedule. Your teen should discuss with the borrowing friend:
- How much money they want to borrow;
- What the money is for; and
- When the loan will be repaid.
More importantly, your young lender should know that this transaction is about “money” not “friendship.” The friend may not repay the loan on schedule, for instance. Explain that someone can be your good friend yet still be irresponsible about money. With a contract (even a verbal contract,) clearly understood by both parties, if a borrower fails to keep up their end of the deal, it doesn’t have to spell the end of a friendship. Your teenage lender should make it clear to their friend that there surely won’t be anymore loans available to them. However, another important lesson every lender should know in advance is that they should never lend more than they can afford to lose.
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