Sitting on the Sidelines
Given our experiences with money, the mistakes we’ve made and what we wish we knew about money when we were younger, how is it that we parents aren’t up in arms?
How come we aren’t calling for massive, decisive action to fix what we must know is a ticking time bomb.
Why are we content to sit on the sidelines and wait for this to play out? Especially when we know deep down, that there really isn’t any good way this can play out.
I think there a few reasons for this:
- It’s in our blind spot
As parents we have a number of blind spots when it comes to our teenagers and their lack of knowhow when it comes to money has to be one of the biggest.
We either don’t perceive it to be a problem or if we do, make light of it or proceed to brush it off as a phase that our teens will grow out of.
We assume that this is something our teens will figure out on their own. We consider making money mistakes almost a rite of passage, something that can’t be helped.
And because we don’t recognize it as problem, we can’t begin to solve it. We remain passive even in the face of impending doom.
There is another related issue here, a psychological phenomenon call ‘inattentional blindness’ where we fail to notice something because we are so focused on another task. As a result of our singular focus we miss out on important information that isn’t related to that task.
As parents of teenagers we are so focused on their test scores and college entrance exams, and so easily fall prey to this. We don’t notice their lack of understanding of money and how it works.
And again, we can’t solve what we can’t see.
2. We play fin-ed football
This is another key aspect of why we don’t take action to financially educate and empower our teens. We think this should be handled by schools and colleges.
After all, they’re teaching our teens everything else. They would ostensibly be better and more effective at delivering this sort of knowledge that we parents would.
With the high fees we pay for ‘innovative’ and ‘state of the art education’ we feel sure that our teenagers are in good hands and that they are being taught all they need to know about money.
So we skillfully pass this responsibility and rest easy.
The problem is that the education system is equally good at this game. It throws the responsibility off, citing a lack of time, funds and resources.
Their time, they feel, is better spent preparing teens for college entrance exams and ticking the boxes on all the government mandated subjects.
Their funds, perennially in short supply, aren’t enough to cover teaching an extra subject, especially one that isn’t evaluated, isn’t part of the regular curriculum and isn’t government mandated to boot.
They also don’t have teaching staff and operational resources to pull this off, they say.
They see personal finance as being firmly in the parental teaching domain and make an adept throw, back to the parents.
With all these fantastic passes and throws being executed by the two stakeholders who have the most impact on the teenagers, the teenagers end up losing.
But because we parents continue to delude ourselves that this isn’t our responsibility, we aren’t making a move to play.
3. We’re out of mental bandwidth
We have too much on our plate. Between keeping our teenagers alive, fed and out of trouble, and dealing with the elusive work-life balance, we don’t have much mental bandwidth leftover for tending to our teens’ financial education needs.
We are over stretched for time, our most precious resource and this leads to ‘tunneling’, which psychologists Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan write about in their excellent book, Scarcity.
A scarcity of time makes us put off important but not urgent things, like writing a will, or talking to our teens about money. Shafir and Mullainathan write, “Their costs are immediate, loom large, and are easy to defer, and their benefits fall outside the tunnel.”
There is a cost to getting our teens a financial education that we’d rather not think about and we can easily defer this because we don’t see the immediate benefits.
Besides, and here we come back to the first point of this being in our blindspot, we’re not absolutely convinced they need it anyway, they seem to be doing just fine.
So we wait till to deal with this issue once we’re done with all the urgent stuff, but we never seem to run out of the urgent stuff.
Suddenly our teens are now off to college, or have gotten their first job and/or credit card, and we still haven’t had given them the crucial financial education they need.
These 3 reasons — our blind spots about our teenagers knowledge of money, the kicking around of whose responsibility this is to teach them, and our lack of mental bandwidth given our time scarcity, give us an insight into why we, as good, well-intentioned parents who want the best for our teenagers, are left sitting on the sidelines when we should be the star players in the game.