Teenagers are highly motivated by any opportunity to expand their freedom. More freedom is, in fact, THE MOST POWERFUL OF ALL MOTIVATORS for teens. I wouldn’t have put it in capitals if it wasn’t.
More than anything, parents of teenagers want their kids to act responsibly. They want them to do their best in school, stay out of trouble, not engage in risk-taking behavior like drinking and pot smoking, and be gracious and grateful family members.
In many parent-teen relationships, the teen’s desire for freedom and the parent’s desire for responsible behavior are in a state of tension. The tension is the result of the parent being unwilling to give the teen sufficient freedom and the teen wanting more freedom than he can responsibly handle. This tension results in conflict between parent and child, conflict that causes even more tension, and more conflict, and so on. Where this ends is anyone’s best guess.
Actually, there is a way of ending it – even preventing it from happening in the first place, and that is for the parent to give the teen the freedom the parent wants him to learn to handle, along with the means of handling it. Let’s apply this to money, something teens want because without it, freedom is pretty meaningless.
A personal anecdote: When my kids, each in turn, became teenagers, my wife and I began them on a fiscal program that included a one-hundred-dollar-a-month allowance. This was the early- to mid-1980s, mind you, but please don’t think we were nuts until you read on. The full program:
1. Each child had a checking account with no overdraft protection into which we deposited one hundred dollars on the first of every month.
2. Each child was responsible for purchasing non-essential clothing and any recreation that did not include at least one other family member.
3. We continued to fund essential clothing, such as replacing clothing that no longer fit.
4. We made it clear that we would never advance money against the next month’s allowance.
5. In the event of a “bounced” check, said child would repay the merchant, pay the merchant’s fine, pay the bank’s fine and pay a fine to us of the sum of those figures. Those monies would come off the top of the next month’s allowance.
We never had problem one with the program. Its purpose was not to simply help the kids learn how to “handle money.” It was to teach impulse control, planning, and the valuable skill of being able to say “no” to oneself.
When he was 15, Eric asked me to advance him the money for a concert ticket. I reminded him of the rule. He told me that I should make an exception since the concert was not announced so he could have planned ahead for it. I told him the rule was the rule and that was that. He began to beg, whereupon I reminded him that his mother and I paid for recreation that included another family member.
It was a great concert.