How do you talk to a teenager about money issues

This can help if:

  • you’re having money problems
  • you’re increasingly feeling stressed about money issues
  • you’re not sure how to talk to your teens about money
  • your family has been fighting about money

Getting through the drought means the whole family has to tighten their belts. There’s less money coming in, but there’s still bills to pay and there might even be extra expenses - like the cost of feed, fuel or drinking water. This can leave you feeling stressed, worried and angry. On top of everything, it can be hard to know what to tell your teen. So, we’ve put together some tips for talking to a teenager about money issues.

Is it okay to talk to teens about money?

Talking to a teenager about money problems can seem risky. You might be worried that you’ll overload them with ‘adult problems’ or that it will stress them out. However, a calm and open conversation can help teens to understand what’s going on and reassure them that it’s not their fault. Involving teens in family discussions can also help them to feel involved in the family and more confident to tackle challenges.

Signs that money issues are causing problems in the family:

  • you’re having more arguments with your partner or children
  • you’ve been ‘snapping’ at your children or have been more harsh with your punishments
  • your children seem worried, upset or angry
  • your children have been acting up

How to have the chat (without freaking them out)

Before

  • Make a plan of what you want to say. Write down the key facts that your teen needs to know. This will help you to stay focused and calm when you talk to your teen.
  • Prepare yourself for likely questions. Think about how the money issues will affect your teen and what they will want to know. Eg. will the money issues affect their extracurricular activities?
  • Think positively about the situation and how your family can overcome it. This might mean writing down possible solutions for each problem, or listing your family’s strengths and thinking of how this will help you to get through the money problem together.
  • Wait until the time is right. Time the chat so that everyone involved can be calm, attentive and involved. Actively schedule in time to talk, rather than trying to squeeze a chat in before school or diving straight into a heavy conversation after a busy day.
  • Create a safe space for the chat by finding a location that is private, comfortable and calming. This will be different for every family, but it’s safest to steer clear of paperwork and bills.

During

  • Remain calm and speak in a clear, soft and slow-paced voice. Take note of your body language and ensure it is open, relaxed and friendly.
  • Focus on the facts and steer your teen away from speculative thoughts of ‘what could’ happen or ‘worst case scenarios.’
  • Use positive language to frame the money problem as a challenge that the family can overcome.
  • Be realistic about what you can promise your teen. You can’t guarantee that you’ll win the lotto, but you can assure them you’ll always have their back.
  • Let them steer the conversation. Allow your teen to ask questions so they can set the pace of information-sharing. Take note of their body language and tone of voice, as well as what they’re actually saying, and tailor the conversation accordingly eg. if they seem upset, anxious or angry, assure them that the family is taking steps to overcome the money issue and give them space to calm down.

After

  • Check in on your teenager to make sure they feel safe, happy and confident that the family can overcome the problem.
  • Encourage your teen to practice self-care and monitor any changes in their behaviour.
  • Keep the subject open for further discussion by letting your teen know they’re welcome to ask questions and telling them you’ll keep them up to date.
  • Look after yourself. When money’s tight, it can be hard to relax. Try to make time for the things that make you and your family happy. Even something small, like a trip to the park or a family movie at home, can help.

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Reviewed by the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health.