Finances & Maturity: Your Teen and Money

by Mark Gregston

What our kids see us do is more powerful than what they hear us say.  And the expression: more is caught than taught, has never been more true than in the area of finances and teen maturity. 

Maturity follows responsibility, and as parents, it’s our job to train up our children in the way they should go.  We need to help our kids understand how the world works, and how the world works, financially.  But listen to this stat: In the past generation, the number of high school students with summer jobs dropped from 75 percent to 35 percent– that’s almost half! 

We have to teach our kids about money.  And we need to be intentional about it so that it doesn’t damage their future relationships.  So, whether your child is six or sixteen, this article will give you the insights you need to help your child make that transition from adolescence to adulthood. 

#1 Give them Financial Responsibilities Early—and Often 

Parents who retain control over every detail of their child’s life do so at the detriment of the child, the parent, and even society!  Those words may sound harsh, but they’re true because no parent wants to deal with a 25-year old couch camper who’s never been taught to be responsible.  It’s up to you to build maturity into your child’s life, and that comes from what you’re teaching them. 

So, start them early.  In eighth grade get them a checkbook—not a credit or a debit card.  Teach them how debits and credits work and how a budget works.  They need to know that you shouldn’t spend more money than you earn. 

Figure out how much you spend on your kids each month and then deposit those funds into that checking account.  Let them know that they’ll be responsible for using those funds to cover their normal monthly expenses.  They may make poor decisions … but then again, they might just surprise you! 

#2 Natural Consequences for Financial Failures 

Most of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son—he took one-third of his father’s estate and squandered the money pretty quickly.  What’s often overlooked in that story though are the six words that come right before his return: And no one gave him anything

That was a tough lesson, but one he needed to learn.  And it’s one our kids need to learn, too.  So, when your teen fails with money, or with any responsibility, don’t shame them—support them instead.  Be there to dust them off and help them get back on track. Remember, learning won’t take place if you continually bail your kids out—though there are definitely times when stepping in is appropriate. 

#3 A Few Things to Consider 

When you allow your teen the opportunity to solve their own problems, you give them responsibility and an opportunity to grow and mature.  So, pull back the curtain on your own family finances, and let your child see the inner workings of the household finances in age-appropriate ways. 

The more freedoms your child enjoys, the more you should let them take financial responsibility for those cellphones, cars, and dates.  Decrease their allowance as they get older.  But don’t just spring it on them.  Discuss it first, so they’ll understand your intentions.  And while you’re talking about it, encourage them to get a job.  Having outside employment will help your teen learn about the responsibilities that come with employment—not just how they can earn money. 

And, finally, teaching your kids about money matters will actually help them feel and act better.  Money management isn’t just about earning and spending.  It’s about giving, too.  And philanthropy doesn’t just happen, it needs to be “caught” and nurtured.  A cheerful, well-trained giver is the best kind. 


Mom, Dad … your teens need your financial help.  I’m not talking about giving them money.  I’m talking about helping them understand the world of finance and how money and credit works.  They need to be taught about investments and how to not spend more than they make.  They need to be taught how to make all they can, save all they can, and give all they can.  It’s called financial training.  Your investment in this area of their life will one day make for a happier marriage and family life as they begin to work and live in a world that demands financial responsibility.  Create opportunities for learning while giving them occasions to make some mistakes.  It’s how they will learn and also how they will see the importance of your counsel. 

Teens Who Demand and Parents Who Don’t

Piggy Bank Ethnic Female

Teens today seem much more demanding than recent generations.  That’s relatively new, but what’s not new is that teens are also less mature today.  Add the two together and what you get is kids who expect their parents to be a walking, breathing ATM machine.

Parents who continually meet the financial demands of a teen fail to realize that they are unwittingly postponing their teen’s development into a responsible and mature adult.  That’s because generosity and a parent’s desire to provide for their child often gets misinterpreted by the teen, leading them believe that this provisional lifestyle will continue endlessly.  They want more and more and appreciate it less and less.

It echoes the attitudes of the Prodigal Son found in scripture, with one difference. Today’s prodigals don’t leave home.  In fact, they are comfortable at home because they can continue a self-centered and lavish lifestyle right under their parent’s noses, with no real-life consequences to help them come to their senses.

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing inherently wrong for parents (and grandparents) to want to do great things for their children. But when the teen years come along and the child has not learned how to to earn and manage their own money, then the over indulgent parent is unintentionally cutting short their teen’s ability to make it out in the real world.

I hear from parents every day who want to place their teenager in our Heartlight Residential program for troubled teenagers.  Many of these kids come homes where parents have lavished on them everything they ever wanted and required nothing of them in return.

We have little ability to change the materialistic world in which our teens live. But I have no doubt of our ability to change what we will and won’t give a child.

So, my recommendation is this. Let the demanding teenager know that it’s time to take more responsibility for what they want or need. Tell them that good ol’ mom and dad will help them make good buying choices and may provide ways for them to earn money, but they will no longer give them everything they want.

I’m usually pretty straight forward with a teen in such a conversation. I’ll say, “Thanks for telling me what you want. But I need you to know something.  Every time you ask, I get a feeling that it’s more of a demand than a request. I just want to let you know that as your parent I owe you nothing, but I want to give you everything. For right now, my greatest gift to you would be to help you learn how to make make and manage your own money.”

This immediately lets your child know they need to lower their expectations about what you will provide, and allows them to begin assuming responsibility for what they want.

For instance, “Honey, your asking for a cell phone is important to you, and I know you would really like to have it. It’s important for me to allow you to take responsibility for it, so let’s talk about what you can do to make it happen. I’m willing to help you find an inexpensive way to have a cell phone, and you’ll need that since you’ll be paying for it.”

But if your child is still young, you can head off such “entitled” attitudes. Begin early to teach them financial responsibility. For instance, when they are 13 they can begin to manage a checking account and pay for minor expenses like lunch money out of a weekly allowance. When they are 15 they can get themselves out of bed for school, do their own laundry, clean their own room, learn how to cook for themselves, and get a summer job to cover some of their own wants and needs.  When they’re 16 and can drive, an after-school or weekend job will help them pay for gas, auto insurance and other needs.

Let alone keeping idle hands busy and out of trouble, starting sooner to teach your teen how to work to make money will give them a greater feeling of independence and self-confidence and prepare them for the day in the future when they tell you they are starting out on their own.