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When Feeling It Is Too Late

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For years my financial friends and I have beaten our heads against the wall over and over again because of one simple question: “What do we do to teach young people how to start off on the right track with money earlier rather than later?”  It sounds like a simple question, but it is complicated as…well, it’s just very complicated.  But I can’t let it go.  I have to do something.

The idea is to help young people avoid the mistakes many of us make as we enter adulthood clueless about money because we know that avoiding those mistakes can set people up for accelerated success in life.  I know the argument against this idea.  “Kids aren’t interested in learning about money because they don’t have any”, or, “they don’t have any responsibility yet”, or, “they don’t want to hear about it.”  I’ve got a response to all of that, but first I’ll agree with the fact that many people, maybe even most, are still going to have to learn the hard way.  For whatever reason they won’t listen, or they’ll disregard the timeless wisdom, or they’ll simply make mistakes.  We all make mistakes, just some of us worse than others.

Now for my responses to those typical reasons why we shouldn’t bother teaching young people about money:

Do we give teens a license and keys to a car without making them first prove they know how to drive?  Do we give them a gun without teaching them how to shoot it, a knife without showing them how to handle it safely?  I know those are extreme leading questions, so how about one a little less dramatic.  Does the YMCA let kids go down the water slide just because they want to, or do they make them prove they can swim so they don’t drown?  Why do we reason that it’s ok to let young people mismanage money to the point of drowning in debt before we teach them how to swim?

It isn’t a matter of whether or not they have any money.  They WILL have money one day, and that day might come sooner if we teach them how to be trusted with money.

It isn’t a matter of whether or not they have responsibility.  They WILL have responsibilities one day (unless they’re never expected to grow up and move out), and again that day might come sooner if we teach them that earning trust with money requires responsibility.

It isn’t a matter of whether or not they want to hear it.  They don’t want to hear “save sex for marriage” either, but we tell them to anyway.  It’s a matter of telling them what they NEED to hear, not just what they WANT to hear.

Let me be clear that I completely understand learning financial management is not as high a priority for teens as other issues are, such as actually having a relationship with Jesus, developing the discipline to follow Him, dealing with peer pressure, sexual temptation, drugs, depression, etc etc etc.  There’s a long list of things that I’ve heard referred to as “felt” needs for teens, meaning those needs are much more pressing matters in the present than something that’s in the future.  Trust me, I get it.  Believe it or not, I was a teen once upon a time, and with young teens of my own, I’m seeing their struggles more every day.  BUT, that doesn’t make learning to manage money any less important, and it certainly doesn’t  mean I’m leaving my kids’ knowledge of money management to chance.

The problem with waiting to address issues when they’re “felt” needs is that by the time most things are a “felt” need it is already too late.  They’re already having sex.  They’re already giving in to peer pressure.  They’re already playing around with drugs.  They’re already suffering from depression, etc etc etc.

I recently asked an actual college student when he thought is the right time to make sure students are taught financial management.  He said, “No later than junior or senior year in high school, because if you wait any longer than that it’s probably too late for most people (because of the student loans, credit cards, and for some even car loans that students begin to pile on in college).”  So basically even this young man in that stage of life understands that it is better to be equipped to make wise decisions before being in the stage of life rather than being told later on that the decisions they’ve already made are a problem.  These young people aren’t stupid, and they don’t appreciate being treated like they are.  If they’re like me they’ll one day reach a point in their life where they ask the question, “Why didn’t anyone teach us this stuff in school or why didn’t our parents teach us, OR why couldn’t they teach us this stuff at church?”

If we would talk about money with young people more, I guarantee many of them understand the “felt” need more than we give them credit for, because they’ve watched their parents suffer through one of the toughest economic recessions in history.  I guarantee they would understand that waiting until financial management is a “felt” need typically means someone is already in way over their head in debt and other poor financial choices and habits.  But they won’t understand that if we aren’t talking about it.

Teaching our kids about money is part of our responsibility as parents, as the ones gifted with the opportunity to disciple our kids to be the best living example of Jesus they can be to the world who needs hope.  My kids accepted Jesus as Lord and savior at an early age and adopted the belief that God’s word is truth that provides guidance for how we live our life.  I want them to understand ALL of God’s principles so they can apply them to how they live at any stage of life.

I am far from a perfect parent.  My wife and I are struggling every day to raise our kids the way we feel God has called us to.  The last thing I want to do is come across like I’m some sort of parenting expert.  But please hear me out.  We do everything we can to not only recognize what our kids are dealing with now but to also look ahead and see what they’re going to be dealing with next.  We know there are multiple stages and phases of life for our kids, and we don’t want to be so overwhelmed with fixing what’s now that we can’t prepare them for what’s next.

Teaching young people about money is also part of our responsibility as a church.  It pains me, literally drives me nuts, that we as a church, in general, are sending young people off into the “real world” to earn and manage money on their own with little to no knowledge of financial stewardship.  I know that regardless of what we might teach them they’re going to make mistakes, but they might make fewer or less severe mistakes if we taught them.  I know that generally speaking there are so many young people that need to be reached with the gospel that it doesn’t make sense to teach them financial stewardship.  But what about the hundreds of thousands of them who DO claim to follow Jesus but they’re living according to the world instead of the word with regard to money?  THOSE are the ones we’re called to disciple, as a church, to not only proclaim the gospel but to also live by the word of God in a way that makes their example a proclamation of the gospel.

We all know that God fearing people raised in church are usually more likely to be moral and productive citizens as adults.  Yet it is no secret in church-world that “the last thing people typically surrender to God is their wallet”.  We’ll lie, cheat, steal, and murder before we’ll surrender that to God.  It is astounding that we don’t see the correlation more clearly.  Lack of surrender in one thing leads to lack of surrender in all things.

Do we really believe as a church that we learn that sinful lack of financial surrender as adults?  Do we really believe that the only way to change that sinful lack of surrender is to wait until it is a “felt” need?

It is time to start instilling the discipline and direction all Christians need to fulfill our purpose in Christ earlier in our walk with Him rather than later.  There is no better time to build that foundation for early age Christians than when we are young and don’t yet have the obstacles of adult responsibilities to constantly challenge our faith and compromise our complete surrender.  It is time to stop being so satisfied with “it’s never too late” and be more excited about “it’s never too early.”  The “never too late” mentality is for people who are ok with being late to start with.  The “never too early” is for people who know the power of having a head start.

Anything built on a foundation that has huge gaps in it will be weak when storms come over time.  What if the fire and desire young Christians have for pursuing Jesus is coupled with discipleship that builds a strong and complete foundation for their faith to grow on?  Imagine the impact Christians can have over the course of their life if their foundation of faith is complete with financial stewardship from the beginning rather than being burdened with filling the gap when it becomes a problem.

Every now and then we hear a story of a small group of youth taking steps to sacrifice their own financial needs or desires in order to provide a blessing to others.  What if instead of hearing about only a small few we started seeing the movement of many in that direction?  What if instead of only a select minority of wealthy young people learning to manage money well into early adulthood we saw an entire generation of young people already free from financial pitfalls and poised to change the world?

The current generation of young people making their way into adulthood and taking on the “real world” is a generation that is passionate about doing things that make a difference.  They care about causes that make the world a better place.  But they are just as clueless about financial stewardship as the generation before them and the generation before them and the generation before them, all the way up to the current baby boomers who are retiring broke.  The rising generation will have an exponentially greater impact if we teach them to be better financial stewards sooner.

I’m not sure what else can be said to make this point more clearly.  We can agree that teaching financial stewardship to entire youth groups might not be the most pressing need in general.  But for the young people claiming to follow Jesus, there is no reason to wait because being a Christian includes being a financial steward.  It’s up to us to equip them for the road that lies ahead.  They might not be ready to apply it now, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give them what they need to apply it later.

The greatest challenge my financial friends and I have had over the years is not the challenge of making money management interesting or relevant to young people.  It isn’t the challenge of helping young people see the need in their future.  The greatest challenge we’ve faced is getting the adults making decisions about what the young people are taught to provide the opportunity for them to hear.  Parents obviously aren’t doing a great job teaching it.  Schools barely teach it or don’t at all.  The same is true of colleges and universities.  And then there’s the church, the one collective group of people that has the most timeless financial wisdom in the world, the best money book ever written, the Bible.  But we are only teaching financial stewardship when it’s too late.  As a brother in Christ, I ask you, what can we do to change that?

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