Kids need assuring in financial meltdown

Posted Oct. 10, 2008, at 9:05 p.m.

“Just don’t look!” seems to be the advice from the so- called “financial experts” as the Dow keeps tumbling.

Don’t look at that quarterly 401(k) statement that beckons from the bottom of the discarded mail pile. Don’t watch too much news because it will only serve to deepen your anxiety. Recycle the stock market page with nary a glance.

I’m OK with the first one. Even while human nature impels us to gawk at traffic accidents and crime scenes, not many of us really want to see the train wreck that is now our retirement savings account.

Even my banker husband has resolved to stay away from that abysmal sight.

And with the exception of that one economics class I took in college, in which I got bonus points if I subscribed to The Wall Street Journal, I can’t say that I’ve ever spent too much time perusing the stock pages.

In 1988 God fixed me up with a banker for a reason. Back then I had my own “don’t look” policy, but unfortunately it often involved the balance in my checkbook.

I am, however, a bit of a news junkie and at my house the daily routine begins with morning news shows, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Over these past troublesome weeks I’ve grown accustomed to my husband’s furrowed brow as the day’s dreary headlines stream across our kitchen. What I wasn’t prepared for was the worry that has so clearly wormed its way into the lives of my kids.

“Is that going to happen to us?” my 12-year-old son asked the other day as another story of a family’s financial plight was told as he packed his lunch for school.

“Are we headed for the next Great Depression?” my 15-year-old daughter asked.

A survey of 500 U.S. teens was released last week and reported in the Washington Times Sunday paper. It found that 70 percent of them feared an “immediate negative impact” on the security of their families.

That fear, the paper reported, can lead to headaches, stomachaches or a lost interest in school.

In the days and months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, experts everywhere told parents how to talk to their children about the agonizing tragedy that we all witnessed.

Now they’re back — on TV, newspapers and online blogs — warning us of the effects today’s financial crisis may have on the psyche of our children.

By nature, parents always want to be able to reassure their children. It’s an unpleasant reality that sometimes you can only reassure them just so much.

So when I was faced with that worry on my children’s watchful and wise faces, I opted for honesty.

“These are very tough times,” I told them. “Every family is going to have to make some changes, including us.”

While there may be no “big” Christmas gifts this year, there still would be more modest ones, and the most sacred traditions of lots of great food and family would not change.

I had dreaded telling my son that his father and I had decided to forgo that new gaming system he’d longed for. He simply looked at me and said, rather proudly in fact, “I’m fine with that. I really am.”

I explained to them that we were blessed with their father’s financially conservative nature, frustrating though it sometimes may seem.

I really think they got it.

Today my kids know how to read the “price per unit” stickers on items at the grocery store. When riding in the car, they routinely scan the land-scape shouting out the gas prices at the stations we pass.

A year ago they wouldn’t have noticed either.

When I told them that I may have to work more, they were concerned about rides to practices and piano lessons. We talked of thinking ahead and car pooling with friends and neighbors.

I don’t know whether I said what the experts would advise. I’m not an expert on anything, but I’d like to think that when it comes to my kids, I’m the closest there is.

There’s a lot of things that we may not want to look at these days, but as parents it may be a good time to take a close look at the faces of our kids, because they are paying attention.

reneeordway@gmail.com

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