Most financial planners say it’s a good idea to talk to your children about money on a regular basis. But you can go too far. If you give too much information or involve your children directly in your financial troubles, you are likely doing more harm than good.
“When children are inappropriately exposed to adult financial problems and conflict, they feel anxious and insecure,” says financial psychologist Brad Klontz, who wrote “Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health.” “That can be very harmful.”
Klontz says parents who regularly cross financial boundaries with their children have a monetary disorder he calls “financial incest”. Here are some signs you might be having a problem:
- You share all of your financial worries with your child and you do not provide any information. After that you will feel a sense of relief.
- You use money to control your children.
- You use your child as a mediator when you argue with your spouse or ex-spouse over money issues.
- You ask your child to answer the phone when creditors call or to lie about the family’s financial situation.
- You ask your teen to make important financial decisions, expect them to balance the checkbook, or contribute to the household bills.
Some therapists disagree with the label “financial incest”, finding that it seems intentionally shocking and is not widely recognized in the field. “We psychologists use a set of nomenclature guides so we’re all on the same page, and there’s no ‘financial incest’ in it,” says Kathleen Gurney, a psychologist specializing in money problems in Sarasota, Florida.
Klontz replied that the term was not intended to be shocking: “Rather, like sexual incest or emotional incest, it describes the dynamic of sacrificing the psychological well-being of a child in order to meet the needs of adults, in this case for money.”
Though the label worries her, Gurney says she has certainly treated adults who inappropriately embroiled their children in financial trouble and children who are fearful as a result. It is particularly common in divorce, She says. One parent might say, “I’m sorry, honey, but we can’t get you braces because your father doesn’t pay enough support.” The other might say, “Why don’t you ask mom about it? I definitely give her enough money every month. ”
“Parents use their children to process their emotional upsets,” says Gurney. “It is a mechanism to relieve their stress and pain, at least in the short term. But it can affect the parent-child relationship for a lifetime and certainly a child’s chance of a healthy relationship with money. ”
The victims of financial incest can be adult children or younger children, Klontz says. When parents share too much information, the children may feel honored or important first because their parents trust them. But usually they are anxious and confused because the issues are out of their control. Often, says Klontz, they develop their own money disorders as a result.
Parents who use money as a tool to control their children can cause even more psychological harm, therapists say. Gary Buffone, a Jacksonville, Fla., Psychologist who wrote “Choking on the Silver Spoon: Keep Your Children Healthy, Rich, and Wise in a Land of Plenty,” says he has advised couples trying to fund their adult children force attendance at a particular college or let grandchildren live nearby.
“I had a wealthy client who gave his three children high-paying jobs at his company,” says Buffone. “To get their paychecks, they had to show up for dinner every Friday. Otherwise they were not paid. As you can imagine, there was a lot of resentment and anger towards the father, and the children had a very twisted view of money. ”
Rand Conger, a psychology professor at the University of California-Davis, said his research on the psychological effects of financial stress on children shows that most people are very good at not having a lot of money or material things. But they get very sad “when their parents argue with each other or with them about money problems,” he says. “The most important thing parents can do is stay calm and try to help the children understand what is happening.”
In addition to calm in times of financial crisis, Conger and other therapists recommend the following steps:
- If you’re tempted to share the details of your financial troubles with your children, try to find another point of contact together, be it a friend, a therapist, or a nonprofit credit counseling agency.
- Never give money to your children or ask them not to tell others about it. Even comments like, “Here is $ 10 but don’t tell your father” can cause confusion and fear.
- Give children an opportunity to help in times of crisis. It can be as easy as telling a younger child to give their dad a big hug when they get home, or sitting down with older children and discussing how you can cut all of your expenses. “Older children and young people feel empowered when they feel they are helping,” says Conger. “You can help them work away from home or offer more support at home so that parents can work more.” Such cooperation during a crisis, says Conger, strengthens family ties and gives your children a strong financial basis for them Future.
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