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Teens on a Budget

Help your adolescent adjust to tough economic times

This holiday season, many moms and dads will have to say "no" to their tweens and teens' holiday hopes for designer clothes and shiny new gadgets. In a region especially hard-hit by job loss and salary cuts, slashed budgets leave many with little choice.

Breaking the news won't exactly stir up holiday cheer. But there are ways you can help your adolescent adjust – and, even if your family hasn't been affected, ways you can help them prepare in case it is.

Preventative steps

Greg Oliver's 15-year-old son is usually on his own when it comes to buying the latest video game or going to a weekend movie. Sometimes he's able to afford what he wants; others, he has to wait, or even cancel plans. It can be a big bummer.

And Oliver, who's also a psychologist with Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System, thinks that's a good thing. Not because he's a mean dad. But because he believes it teaches his son valuable life lessons.

"That kind of practice and experience of being disappointed is important for kids to go through," Oliver says. "That way, when they face something that is more serious like a family economic change, the disappointment is not completely foreign or brand new to them."

The idea is for kids to experience delayed gratification in order to teach them how to deal with having their material needs postponed. Or even eliminated.

Open communication

However, Oliver understands that for many families, this exercise might be too late. For kids who are largely used to getting what they want, the shift can be jarring. Even if that's not the case, kids can develop anxieties or worries if they feel they're losing their sense of security.

The remedy, says Oliver, is for families to set up a formal meeting and talk about what is going on.

Certified financial planner Karen Norman of Norman Financial Planning in Troy also thinks it's a good idea for parents to have open dialogue with their kids about family finances, especially when tough times arise. She suggests conversations on a regular basis – whether it's once a month or quarter – and families should discuss everything from how the mortgage and other bills are paid to how to afford extras, like school activities.

"This isn't to make kids more worried about things than they need to be," Norman says. "It's more of an instructional thing to say, 'This is how mom and dad have to plan our lives, and when you grow up, you'll have to do the same thing.'"

Long-haul lessons

Norman adds that discussions about scaling back present parents with a great opportunity to get kids on the right track to becoming better consumers – as well as teach them about the importance of saving.

"If parents look at it as an opportunity to teach kids some financial responsibility, then it's going to help their kids learn a lesson that they'll need 10, 15 or 20 years down the road," Oliver says.

Another positive part of the situation, he notes, is that family members discover how to rely on each other – and teens learn to respect and appreciate those relationships.

"The actual experience of a tough time is how kids can learn about materialism and what really counts," Oliver says. "Some tough economic times are important for kids to experience disappointment and struggle, so they learn the value of a dollar and they learn the value of people."

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