Parenting Mistakes: 'Do As I Say' and Other Gems

Last Updated Apr 11, 2011 11:19 AM EDT

The mutual fund company T. Rowe Price bought some easy headlines with its recent Parents, Kids & Money Survey, which concluded that most parents find it easier to talk to their kids about sex and drugs (and presumably rock 'n' roll) than about family finances. What writer can resist that storyline?

But it's kind of obvious, if you think about it. Of course parents would rather speak to things they, well, may know a little something about. Having just eked through a terrible recession, possibly with a self-destructing mortgage and no emergency fund, it's understandable that many feel wholly unqualified to have The Talk about money.

Indeed, 1 in 4 parents in the survey gave themselves a grade of C or lower when asked about their grasp of family financial matters. That's pretty scary when nearly 9 in 10 conceded that teaching kids about money is their responsibility -- not that of government or educators.

The prevailing strategy many seem to favor: Do what I say, not what I do. In the survey, parents graded themselves even lower as financial role models than they did as masters of family finance.

In other words, they readily own up to, say, running up their credit cards while preaching the virtue of saving. It reminds me of the personal finance teacher who filed for bankruptcy during the same semester he was teaching the class. That's a true story.

Talking to kids about appropriate behavior will only get you so far. You have to walk the walk. My youngest is 16 and just got her learner's permit. So I've been spending a lot of time with her in the car. When I call her out for cruising through a "stopional" sign, she takes note and later torches me for the same poor driving behavior. I've had to adjust my driving to set the right example, which has been good for both of us.

It's no different with money. In fact, parents in the T. Rowe Price survey said that 20% of the time their kids ended up ripping them for bad financial practices that they had discussed. You're good example is the best teacher. It's also good for your bank account. But don't be afraid to reinforce lessons with conversation no matter how financially inept you may feel. You don't have to be a money genius, or even really good at this stuff, to be an effective money mentor to your kids. You just have to approach each situation honestly and learn from your mistakes as your kids learn with you.

Parents often take advantage of teachable moments during family activities such as shopping or when their kids receive money as a gift. But they tend to miss opportunities to have these conversations when shopping online, paying bills, or visiting the bank or ATM.

So get the conversation started. Follow up with a good example. And, just for a little fun, here's a vintage video recalling those other topics I mentioned at the start of this post:

Photo courtesy Flickr user f-r-a-n-k
More on MoneyWatch:
· Seven Ways to Build an Emergency Fund
· 10 Ways to Set a Good Spending Example
· 5 Key Money Lessons for Kids
· 3 Reasons Credit Cards Make a Lousy Emergency Fund

  • Dan Kadlec

    Daniel J. Kadlec is an author and journalist whose work appears regularly in Time and Money magazines. He is the former editor of Time’s Generations section, which was written and edited for boomers. Kadlec came to Time from USA Today, where he was the creator and author of the daily column Street Talk, which anchored the newspaper's business coverage. He has co-written three books, including, most recently, With Purpose: Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life. He has won a New York Press Club award and a National Headliner Award for columns on the economy and investing.