Illicit dealings?

I recently asked my son how he thought things might be different this Fall, using his AmEx PASS card rather than being given his allowance in cash on a weekly basis. Deadpan, he quipped, “It’s obvious. Cash is virtually untraceable so all of my illicit dealings will now have to be under the table or I'll have to go to the cash machine and pay a fee. I’m just going to have to be more thoughtful about what I do illicitly.”

So much for a straight answer! It did, however, get me thinking. One of the advantages of giving your child his allowance on a card rather than in cash is that you can keep track of where, when and how much he’s spending. Obviously, this does cut down on any “illicit” things a teen might be spending money on and, hopefully, serves the purpose of making them think before they spend. On the other hand, it’s fairly invasive: a brash intrusion on their privacy.

One primary developmental goal of adolescence is to become independent. A hard enough task on its own, it’s made even more difficult when mom or dad is hovering around like a helicopter, monitoring every move their teenager makes. How, then, do we guide them without micromanaging them? And, how do we trust that they’re spending their money appropriately?

In the past, when we gave our son his allowance in cash, we didn’t micromanage. We trusted that he would budget his money and, if he didn’t ask us for extra cash, we assumed that he was spending it on what we expected him to spend it on. We operated on the premise that trust is something you give freely unless trust is broken. If your teenager violates your trust, then micromanagement is called for. Therefore, because our son has never broken trust with us, we won’t keep an eye on every single thing he spends his money on. Instead, the fact that it is tracked on-line by his PASS card will be used by him to ask us any questions he might have about money management.

And how will we trust he’s spending it appropriately and not on “illicit” items? Actually, by not giving him too much money to begin with.

Every year in NYC, an organization called “Parents In Action” sponsors a talk for parents of teenagers called “The Teen Scene.” It’s “straight talk” from teenagers about what’s really going on in their lives. The way it works is that “Parents in Action” gathers a panel of approximately twelve teenagers that range from 9th – 12th grade. A moderator asks the teens questions about drugs, sex, alcohol, school and the like while five to six-hundred parents listen, usually aghast. (Let’s just say the teens are extremely honest and don’t hold back.) What I find fascinating, however, is that every year during the question and answer period a parent inevitably asks, “If you could give us, as parents, one piece of advice, what would it be?” Invariably, the answer from the teenage panel is “Don’t give us too much money.”

The bottom line is that if you don’t give your teen too much money they’re less likely to spend the small amount they have on “illicit” or luxury items and more likely to spend it on things they need.

Please note that Julie Ross is being compensated by American Express for these blog posts and that any opinions expressed are entirely her own.