Do You Know What Your Teen Is Up To?


Now that Kevin is earning his own money through tutoring and babysitting – and quite a bit of it for a fourteen-year-old, I must say – we’ve attempted to lay down some ground rules in order to impart on him the principles of responsibility, frugality, and delayed gratification.  In other words, prioritize wants and needs, learn to put away for a rainy day, and you don’t have to have everything you want right now.  To this end, we’ve allotted Kevin a certain amount to have on his person to use at his discretion for things he wants that we are not willing to pay for.  Anything he accrues over and above that allowance is to be handed over to myself, who divides it between Kevin’s savings account and his upcoming eighth grade trip to Washington DC (which, for the record, has a total price tag of well over $2,000, the majority of which we are paying for, but which we expect Kevin to contribute to since he is, in fact, earning a good amount of money these days).

When we first laid down these ground rules a while back, Kevin seemed okay with the arrangement.  However, as time has gone on, he’s become a little resentful about having to hand his money over to us, the parents.  From where I’m sitting, I can’t fathom what he thinks he should have instant access to what at this point amounts to hundreds of dollars for.  We provide him with all of his necessities and a good deal of his non-necessities.  The only things he needs cash for are frivolous things like apps for his iPhone (he has my old iPhone, which is not hooked up to any service but which he can still use for apps, and which I sold to him for $50), the occasional school lunch he wants to indulge in (which I refuse to pay for at this point because it’s crap and we have perfectly good lunch food here at home), and things like that.  I think his thing at this point is just a matter of flexing his independence muscles and wanting to be in charge of his own stuff.  Which I get,  I really do.  But I don’t think he’s yet old enough or savvy enough or responsible enough to manage his money wisely on his own.  Hence the parameters.

Today we went round and round about it.  It came up because he had found $25 on school grounds a few weeks ago and turned it into the office.  Nobody claimed it, so today he was called to the office and given the cash.  He told us about it after school and I reminded him that this was money over and above his allowance, so he needed to hand it over to put in savings.   He balked.  And we went round and round, with him insisting that a revised set of rules with regard to his money needed to be put into place immediately, and us insisting that while we are happy to listen to any ideas he might have, the fact of the matter is that he is the child and we are the parents and we get to decide the rules, not out of meanness, but from our own collective wisdom and life experience and a wish to impart certain values on him.

Later, Michael and I were talking about it, about how resistant Kevin suddenly seems to be to going along with the plan that’s been in place for a while now.  I said to Michael, “Gosh, what if he starts stashing money away?  We’d never know about it.”  Never dreaming, of course, that Kevin would actually do something like that.  Just then, Kevin happened to come into our room.  The timing was uncanny!  I said to him, “Geez, Kev, I hope you’d never stash money away and be sneaky and dishonest like that.  Is there anything you want to tell us?”  (Never dreaming, of course, that Kevin would actually do something like that.  Seriously, it was completely hypothetical.)  Kevin suddenly looked stricken.  He said, “Yes . . .”  I said, “What?”  He said, “I have money stashed away.”  I was dumbfounded.  “How much?” I asked.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “Well, you better go get it then,” I told him.  He came back a few minutes later with $81 in cash – and that was over and above his allowance.  So he’s been holding money back and squirreling it away for a while, and being dishonest and sneaky about it.

Gosh.  I’m just so surprised.  And really, really disappointed.  And I told him as much.  All this time I’ve gone on and on about what a great kid he is, about how so far he hasn’t given us any real problems, how he’s honest and decent.  And fundamentally, I do believe those things about him.  But I also feel duped.  And disappointed in myself for lulling myself into thinking he’d never do anything like that.

It’s funny . . . the other night I hosted my book club at my house, and a few of us were standing around chewing the fat after the party broke up and we were saying how if the time ever comes when our kids are teenagers and do something (most likely, something we ourselves did as teens that turns our stomachs at the thought of our own kids doing), how are we going to react?  Will we keep our cool, or will we come unglued?

I didn’t come unglued.  I actually think I did a pretty good job of keeping my cool, while still giving him a serious talking-to about trust and honesty and integrity and responsibility and making good choices.  And I’m trying to keep this in perspective – after all, it’s his own money he was stashing away; it’s not like he stole it, and it’s not like I caught him with a beer or something.  Yet.  But that’s the thing – this is just the beginning.  He’s fourteen, and in the coming years he’s going to be exposed to a whole world of stuff, and he’s going to be faced with a lot of choices.  I can’t delude myself into believing that he’s going to stay squeaky clean and that he’s always going to make the right choices.

It scares me.

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10 Comments on “Do You Know What Your Teen Is Up To?”

  1. Liz
    February 1, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    Just a random lurker but I had to chime in… As a teenager myself (18), I have been in his situation. When I was his age I started babysitting and earning money. My parents recommended that I put half away in savings and half I could use for my own pleasure. This worked well because I felt like I had the freedom that came with earning money and my parents got to teach me how to be responsible (if I had refused the half and half rule they would have forced me).

    Personally, and I am NOT judging here, I would feel like I was being treated as a child as opposed to a teenager if I had to give my money to my parents. Although, as a 14 year old, I was not being paid an allowance, that puts us in different situations but I am the oldest of my siblings so my parents were all new to this too.

    I am proud to say though, that this past summer I had saved enough money to go to Spain with my Spanish class. Although my parents helped, I don’t think I would have been able to enjoy it if I wasn’t the one who had saved the money. This is just my two sense and maybe it helped you see it from a different perspective 🙂

  2. Monica Crumley
    February 1, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    Oh, Lisa, I can so relate. Nic isn’t earning money regularly, but seems to come by it through report cards (cash from grandparents), birthdays, Christmas, essay contest, altar serving at a wedding or funeral, or whatever… The kid has more cash than I. And with the teen hormones, comes some resistance and stubbornness and attitude. Like you, I think Nic is a great kid (for the most part), but I really worry about the things that will happen that we’ll be unaware of. Try not to lose too much sleep over it. Kevin is probably light years ahead of his peers in terms of responsibility… but the next decade will be very interesting (and scary) in many ways…

  3. Maggie
    February 1, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Sounds to me like he’s a great kid and you’ve done well.

    What I read here says that he’s been feeling the need to exert some financial independence, and that he’s been feeling guilty for stashing some money without your knowledge. The fact that he created a fuss that brought the idea to your attention, and that he answered a direct question honestly, tells quite a bit about the respect and esteem in which he holds you (never mind how much he loves you and needs your approval).

    From my perspective as a grandparent, it also looks like he’s given you a way to see how to communicate about other things a teen might at some point keep secret but want to be able to talk about — sex, maybe a little experimenting with intoxication, a problem that a friend has and won’t tell their parents about. If he’s fourteen and the worst thing he’s done is hide $81 and not tell you about it until you ask directly, it seems to me you are WAY ahead of many of us.

    Parenting adolescents is a rollercoaster ride for all concerned … especially the kid.

    Love, light and laughter to you all for the ride ahead

  4. Life After Grad School
    February 1, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    My parents never managed my money after I turned 10 and acquired a paper route. When I wanted something, I had to save for it (my parents did not have much money for extras). If it was something like summer camp, they would typically offer to pay for half, then sit down and figure out how they were going to budget it. Dad would have me figure out how much I would need to save each week in order to hit my goal. The lessons stuck with me- I typically save for what I want and I’ve never had any of the issues my friends did with credit card debt or paying bills late.

    However, my parents did not deem my middle brother responsible enough to manage his money and managed it for him. As a consequence, he didn’t learn to handle money. He didn’t learn to save for emergencies or to save for what he wants. He uses credit irresponsibly and has been bailed out 2x (that I know of) by my parents (I suspect my father may have bailed him out a few more times). He has never dealt with the consequences of his financial irresponsibility (ie you don’t have money for a car repair, guess what, you’re walking until you do). So my feeling is that it is better to learn money lessons as a 14-17 year old.

    Perhaps you could draw up a contract with Kevin? Spell out exactly what you expect from him (that he will pay for lunches, new clothes, trips, etc) and save x% of what he earns. Give him a trial period. If he abides by it, negotiate a new contract with him with more freedom, but also more responsibilities. Definitely consider getting him a checking account at some point during his teens (you would not believe the number of people I know that can’t fathom that what the ATM says is the account balance is NOT how much money they have available to spend!).

    Good luck! Kevin does sound like a great kid- I mean, he squirreled away his own money. That tells me, he isn’t buying nearly so much frivolous stuff as you think! Besides, deciding to save his discretionary money is certainly a choice you want to encourage! Although I would encourage him to put it in the bank when he makes that decision- 3 year olds can wreak havoc on a wallet full of “coupons” (thank you youngest brother for ripping up my money to go to the rollar rink).

  5. Cinoda
    February 1, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    What you have to remember about this situation. He stashed money away. In fact he was saving the money…you just didn’t know about it. Just a suggestion. Every week let him decide how his money is divided then let him report to you on where it went. It sounds like you have put the fundementals in place, just give him the chance to prove to you that he is responsible. When the week comes up that maybe his money plan seems a little off balance to you, discuss it with him to see why he felt that division made sense to him at the time. Overall, I think you are raising a great kid.

  6. Mumofone
    February 1, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    I’ve got a long time until my almost 3 year old is a teenager – but I really like the original post and additional comments suggested by readers – am going to try and remember all the principles for when this is me in a decade 🙂

  7. Asha
    February 2, 2011 at 4:05 am #

    I don’t understand why you are disappointed that he stashed away his remaining “spending” money? He didn’t waste it. Is he not allowed to save up over a certain amount? I am confused.

    • Lisa
      February 2, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

      Asha, I know! You’d think I would be happy that he saved his money. The thing is, for me, that I don’t feel that at this age he needs to have that much cash at his disposal – basically to do what he wants with. This is why Michael and I set the parameters we have – that he gets to keep a certain amount of cash to do with what he wants, and the rest he must hand over to us to be put away. Yes, it’s good that he chose to put money away on his own, but he was secretive about it, and he knew he was being secretive. And what was he going to do with that money? He hasn’t come up with a clear answer. I guess he could have ended up spending it on anything – even something we wouldn’t approve of (I was buying cigarettes at his age! And pot . . . – not that I have any reason to think he’s doing any of those types of things – and having been there, I’d like to think I’d recognize the signs) – and we’d never know. I don’t like the idea of him doing things behind our backs – I guess that’s the bottom line. And I know not every parent out there agrees with how we’ve decided to handle money with him at this point, but this is what we feel comfortable with right now after a lot of thought and consideration. My feeling is that too much unsupervised money for a kid this age can be just as dangerous as too much unsupervised time.

  8. Tracy
    February 4, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    This stuff worries me too. Sounds like you’re doing a great job!

  9. midnightmama
    February 4, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    I think youre being wise. Of course this is just my opinion because my kids are still in diapers 😉 But from my own experience as a teenager who was HORRIBLE with , I wish my parents would have thought things through like you are. A teenager with money to burn = potentially mischevious . This day and age, if you have $$ you can pretty much access anything you want. The tween years are chock full of peer pressure etc….so I applaud you! I hope Im able to be this firm with my littles.

    Oof. Six kids. You must be e x h a u s t e d.

    Nice blog!

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