Youth On Credit

generic student pupil school grade hand holding pencil lined paper
In June, adolescent and family counselor Mike Riera answered questions that were emailed to him by two viewers. Both were concerned about their children: one asks Mike how to confront his 14-year-old's credit-card use. The other writer ask how adolescents' identity searches should be handled.
Dear Mike:

My son wanted a credit card, so he went online and applied for several. I wasn't too worried, believing he would never be granted one. He's 14, has no credit background, doesn't work, etc.. While putting away some stuff in his room, I found one of those inserts a card comes in with the card number. He has not yet informed us that he was sent a real credit card. Do I tell him that I know he has this? Or should I just see if he keeps up the payments?

At 14, he's too young for a credit card. You need to confront him on how he got the card. Ask him if he had to tell some lies in order to obtain the card. You need to take away the card. At the same time, in a couple of years, say when he is 17 or 18, you should work with him to get a card-albeit with a low credit line.

The ideal time to teach your son about credit and credit cards is while your son is in high school, and living at home. College students confront representatives trying to push credit cards on them on the first day of freshman orientation, so prepare him for that day.

While he is still in your home, you can go over his monthly statements and educate him in the world of credit.

But in your case, not now and definitely not under these less-than-honorable circumstances.

Dear Mike:

My oldest son is a college sophomore. We've gone through the earrings and tongue rings phase. This year, he is experimenting with his hair. We've gone from bleached blond to long and shaggy. And now we are in the dreadlock phase. He can't seem to understand that not everyone accepts this. His attitude is, "If they can't accept me for who I am, then I don't need them in my life." His boss told him to come back when he can dress appropriately. I am at a loss as to how to discuss this with him.

This is classic adolescent behavior — and yes, in many ways a college sophomore is still an adolescent. Adolescents are searching for an identity and they take on new ones, in exaggerated forms. Identity goes from the outside to the inside. Their changes in dress are precursors to changes in attitude and understandings of themselves.

Believe me, without saying a word, they know what you think of their new look. So step to the side, like a martial artist, when these changes occur. Instead of saying, "I hate your blue hair," say, "What are you trying to tell the world? I see the creativity at work, which is great, but I don't understand it yet."

Your son getting heat at work is a great example of the natural consequence of choices in identity. This leaves him in a wonderful conundrum that you haven't instigated: how to function in society without giving up his identity? In other words, you should send a thank you note to his boss for giving him grief.