If your family is experiencing financial hardship, your teen is going to feel much better about the circumstances if she is part of the solution rather than part of the problem, according to Washington, D.C., psychotherapist Elizabeth Donovan. Keep the lines of communication open, and try your best to avoid conveying a sense of desperation to your teen. Stress that with everyone pulling together, the family will be fine, and encourage your teen to let you know how she can help.
A teen accustomed to driving her own car, shopping with her friends or inviting the crew over for chips and soda while they play video games can help a financially strapped family by adjusting her lifestyle and expectations. Before you tell your teen she'll need to hand over her keys until the family can pay for insurance on her car again, sit down with her and ask her how she can help. She'll be much happier to implement ideas she comes up with than ones that are imposed on her.
A teen who does extra chores can have a positive effect on his parents' wallet. Trimming the hedges and mowing the yard regularly can save you from paying a landscaping company to do the work, if that's your current setup. Teens can learn to garden to help the family save on food bills, clean the closets and hold a garage sale or start dinner after school so you won't be tempted to order pizza after a long day at work.
In a society that values wealth and a social status, teens can find it difficult to embrace the reality of financial hardship. While this is normal, you should nonetheless encourage him to adopt a supportive attitude. Let him know that whining, sulking or otherwise bemoaning the state of the family's financial affairs does nothing to help, and that happiness does not depend on circumstances. Model the behavior you wish for him to see by supporting other family members and making statements along the lines of, "No matter what, we have each other, and that's what counts."
Upon learning of the family's economic circumstances, your teen's first response might be to offer to get a job and help take care of the family. While this is admirable, use caution. Sometimes teens can take on the family's financial burden and find themselves in a parenting role, warns Donovan. This can cause psychological stress as the teen is not equipped for this level of responsibility. If your teen does decide to get a job to help the family, steer him toward using the money to contribute to his college education, transportation expenses or other expense that does not entail him directly supporting you.
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