Teens Behaving Badly: Allowance Disasters

If your teen is on an allowance, you need to be prepared for impending disaster. They will make allowance mistakes. It’s coming, trust me. It’s just a matter of how big, and when. If your teen isn’t on an allowance yet, you’ll want to go a back a few weeks and start at the beginning of our teens and money series.

The good news is, any mistakes your teen makes with an allowance should be expected. The better news is, mistakes are completely necessary, and this is one of the reasons that you’re giving your kid an allowance in the first place. Kids learn through their mistakes – and the more painful the mistake, the more vivid and memorable the lesson.

Oh no! An Allowance Disaster!

As Douglas Adams famously wrote in The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic!”  Mistakes are going to happen.  Your response is your responsibility.  Be ready.

As a parent, you have a few obligations when it comes to your kids’ allowance mistakes:

  1. Let the mistakes happen; don’t bail your kid out
  2. Don’t be a teacher; let experience be the teacher
  3. Talk about it
  4. Let your kid figure out a solution

Let the mistakes happen; don’t bail your kid out.

In other words, don’t be a helicopter parent. Your kids have to have the freedom to fail every now and then. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing in the world to do; you see disaster coming, and you want to stop it. Resist the urge.
In all fairness, you may want to give a warning or advice: “Have you thought about what might happen if you do that?” “Are you sure that this is a good idea?”

These are questions – when asked with genuine and concern and empathy – that might get your kid to reconsider, and take a smarter path.

Don’t be a teacher; let experience be the teacher

The very WORST thing you can do is say, “I told you so!” You, oh wise parent of a teen, know what this will do, right? It will spur them to make the same mistake – again – and see if they can’t spin this mistake into a success, just to prove you wrong. Don’t gloat, don’t point out the lesson they should have learned. Observe their pain, and offer comfort. Tell them you’re genuinely sad for them that this didn’t work out.

Your kid is painfully aware that a mistake has just been made; he doesn’t need you to point it out. Experience is the best teacher here, not you. Especially with teens. You can’t teach a teen anything.

Talk about it

Use these mistakes as an open door to conversation. “How is it going?” “What’s the latest?” “Have you figured out what you’re going to do yet?” The very best outcome of this would be for your teen to ask you – “What do you think I should do?”

Be very, very careful what you do and say next. You don’t want to come across as knowing what “the” answer is. Remember, you can’t teach a teen anything, and parents are usually wrong. Instead, try to respond with a question. This puts power back in the teen’s hands. You might throw out a couple of ideas like this: “Do you think it would work if you did X?” “Sometimes it helps to do Y, but I don’t know if that will help you in this case.” Both of those responses give a positive idea to the teen, and also puts power into their hands to attempt and succeed. There’s no mandate. There’s no parent saying, “The obvious answer is this.” Give your teen the power to fix the problem.

Let your kid figure out a solution

Sometimes, you won’t have an idea on how to solve the problem. This is fine. You don’t have to. It’s her problem. It’s perfectly fine to say, “I honestly don’t have any advice here. This is a tough spot you’re in. Let me know if you want to talk about it.” And then walk away.

Kids are more resilient and creative than most parents give them credit for. Give them some space and see what they come up with. Their response just might surprise you.

Well – now that we’ve dealt with what happens when things are not going smoothly, it’s about time to talk about the exit strategy. We don’t want to keep giving a kids an allowance forever, right? Next up, we’ll talk about how to wean kids off an allowance, so that they can be ready to be self-sufficient when they ultimately move out of the house.

Coming up: Scaling Back: taking a teen OFF an allowance.    From last week: Keeping Tabs on Your Teen’s Allowance

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