Why do teenagers fail to understand the value of money

Amelie quickly understood the matter of money. "You can never have enough money. Because everything is getting more and more expensive," says the nine-year-old. Wise words that she often heard from her mother and that she therefore pronounces today as if they were her own. Amelie's mother Christine Voigt, whose real name is different, is 30 years old; she had her daughter as a teenager and has been a single parent ever since. She completed her apprenticeship as a hotel manager, works part-time and occasionally waits on the side, but she still never has enough money.

"The fact that money doesn't fall from the sky was an issue for us very early on," she says. "I told my daughter at the age of six how much I earn, how much child benefit we get and what expenses we have." Even if these numbers were not available to Amelie so early, she has developed a healthy understanding of numbers. When asked how expensive a surprise egg is, the answer comes straight away: 79 cents.

At what age should parents talk to their children about money? "It depends entirely on the child," says social worker Michael Schnittchen. He runs a family center in the south of Munich and offers social counseling for families in financial distress. "There are twelve-year-olds who have no understanding of money at all, and there are six-year-olds who can already divide their pocket money. Parents should be able to correctly assess the development of their child and convey the topic accordingly."

Pocket money as early as possible - even before starting school

Money is an issue that Germans don't like to talk about. According to a survey by Postbank in the summer of 2015, salaries, pensions and investments are still taboo topics in Germany. In its survey, Postbank assumes that adults are talking about money, but it seems reasonable to assume that children in Germany also know little about the financial situation of their families. "There are parents who try to keep their financial problems a secret from their children," says Schnittchen. "In most cases, however, an open and honest approach is the better way."

The social worker also advocates paying children pocket money as early as possible - even before they start school. In the beginning, one euro per week is enough. "In any case, it should be left to the child for themselves what they want to buy with the money and whether they want to spend everything at once or prefer to save on something bigger," advises the expert. Children learned early on that money is a finite reserve. Through their own experience, the children could then develop an understanding of their parents' financial situation. "If they say: We can't buy this now, we don't have any more money for it, then the child understands that better," says the social worker.

Children can learn to be patient

Amelie also knows this sentence. She hears it especially often towards the end of the month. No problem? "Well, not always," says Voigt. "Of course there are also discussions, outbursts of anger and tears. But all parents know that." It is not uncommon for the object of desire to be forgotten after a few days. But parents should take heart's desires seriously, says the pedagogue, and this is how Voigt handles it: "If Amelie often talks about a wish and always starts by saying that she wants this or that, then we agree that it will stop for a birthday or for Christmas. "

From the perspective of the social education worker, this solution is the best. "Many parents don't believe it, but children can certainly wait and learn to be patient. Everything doesn't always come out immediately. They have to experience this in order to get through life later as adults," says Schnittchen. High-income earners are also well advised not to read all the wishes of the offspring from their eyes. "The logical connection that you first have to do something for money before it is available cannot otherwise arise," says the social worker. "These children later also have great problems assessing the relationship between living costs and salary correctly. In case of doubt, they will have to rely on financial support from their parents until they are over 30 years old."

Parental attention is more important than cash rewards

Stefan Drewes, head of the Center for School Psychology of the City of Düsseldorf, experiences such cases more and more frequently. "In our society there is a tendency for parents to define themselves strongly through their children. If children get into a pampering situation so very early and permanently, they do not learn to assess their own situation realistically."

Drewes therefore recommends parents at an early age not to reward their children's achievements with money. Good class work or certificates should be rewarded much more with attention, joint activities or experiences. A cinema voucher or an excursion is worth more than cash, especially for younger children. But it is also important to reward the child's efforts - a three on the testimonial can be good or bad, depending on how hard the child had to try.

The psychologist does not believe in the model of paying out certain sums for certain grades: "If you start paying money for good grades, what is there for high school graduation? A sports car?" Not even from paying children to help out in the household. "Parents have to decide if they want to fall into this trap," says Drewes. "But at some point you might also pay for table clearing or washing up."