Claer Barrett has convicted the Tooth Fairy of deceiving our children. The sentence? Death.
The Financial Times' personal finance editor says that's fitting punishment for a myth that, while seemingly innocent fun, harms kids by encouraging the belief that money grows on trees or, in this case, magically appears beneath a pillow in exchange for their pearly whites.
The column, archly titled "Why we have to kill the Tooth Fairy," has sparked a range of reaction online, although Barrett said in an interview that the reactions from parents have been generally positive. "They haven't been anywhere near as upset as I thought they might, and that's because people can see the sense in it."
Barrett argues that belief in the Tooth Fairy distorts children's understanding of financial matters. The error is compounded by shielding them from a franker discussion about these issues, reflecting the unease that many people feel in talking about money, she said. Meanwhile, the advent of mobile payment technology makes money seem even more unreal by making it seem, well, virtual.
Addled by fanciful stories, amped up to consume by "in app" purchasing tools, and detached from a clearer sense of what it means to make and manage money, it's no wonder many kids grow up fairly clueless about finance, said Barrett, a stepmother of three.
Her solution? Parents need to "get real" in educating their kids about money. That means replacing the Tooth Fairy with what she calls the "truth fairy" in the interest of spurring open discussion about finance and to remove some of the discomfort around discussing it.
"It comes down to the parents," Barrett said. "It's getting [children] to think about things to a higher degree than they would otherwise, so you're getting rid of that thinking that money comes out of thin air."
Schools also have a role to play in teaching kids about money, Barrett contends, although mostly to fill in the cracks where parents -- perhaps themselves financially dazed and confused -- are unable to enlighten them. To that end, she favors a back-to-basics approach to financial education that's big on subjects like how to manage a budget but also tutors young people on topics relevant to them, like student loans.
Not everyone buys Barrett's view that declaring a fatwa on the Tooth Fairy, reinforced by more open family discussion of money, will breed smarter financial consumers.
"Are you going to do away with Santa Claus, too?" quipped Helaine Olen, a personal finance expert and author of "Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry."
While acknowledging that parents can help teach their kids about how to use money wisely, Olen argues that Barrett's critique ignores several important factors.
First, there's no evidence that education works, with research suggesting that personal finance classes do little to equip students with the knowledge they need to deal with a complex, ever-changing financial landscape.
"We have this idea that it's somehow easy to teach people to navigate a complicated financial world and that if we just follow a few simple rules everything will be great. That's not true," Olen said. "We live in a country where even a well-behaved financial citizen can be wiped out by a rogue financial wave in a heartbeat."
Second, to fixate on the Tooth Fairy as an agent of financial myth-making is to ignore the broader socioeconomic shifts that play a far more important role in shaping attitudes about money, Olen said.
"In a society with a shredded social safety net, rising health care costs, stagnant and falling salaries, and constant bombardment with messages to spend, spend, spend, to point the finger at the Tooth Fairy is not helpful."