By Staff Writer
Fewer jobs, less money for college, more worries – these are the side effects of a struggling economy that not only affect adults but also trickle down to teens. Although parents worry their teens aren’t living the youthful, carefree lives they deserve, there may be a silver lining to the current economic climate: Every obstacle presents new opportunities to learn valuable life lessons.
The Economic Crunch Strikes Teens
There’s no question that teenagers are feeling the impact of the economic crisis. According to a survey by Junior Achievement, 33 percent of teens said there seemed to be fewer jobs available, 29 percent said the economy was causing them anxiety, 18 percent say they’ve lost a job due to the economy, and 15 percent said they’ve reduced extracurricular activities as a result of the economy. Fourteen percent of adolescents ages 15 to 17 reported that they contribute money to their family budget, and close to 50 percent said that their parents had discussed family finances with them as a result of the downturn.
Although the news sounds dismal, economists, teachers, and parents are taking advantage of the struggling economy to teach important lessons to the next generation, including:
Living on a Budget. For teens, the recession means spending is out and frugality is in. Jobs once occupied almost exclusively by teenagers are now being filled by adults who have been laid off or need a second job to support their families. Parents are feeling the pinch financially, which results in smaller allowances and fewer handouts. On top of having less money to spend, costs of favorite teen indulgences like junk food or and new clothes are rising, not to mention the soaring cost of getting around with higher gas prices.
Economists have suggested that the current teen spending slump is the worst in 17 years, and the teen unemployment rate is at its highest level since the end of World War II, according to a report from the Northeastern University Center for Labor Market Studies. But the news isn’t all bad. Teens are learning how to live on a budget and save money, the difference between needs and wants, and how to shop for bargains and make cuts when necessary. Some are getting jobs to contribute to the family income, encouraging teens to look beyond their own wants and become more appreciative of their parents’ efforts.
Understanding Personal Finance. The struggling economy also presents teens with the opportunity to learn about economics, the stock market, the fluctuating value of the dollar, and personal investing through hands-on experience. In a few short years, teenagers will be bombarded with credit card offers, student loans, and personal expenses. The current credit crunch may help young people understand the dangers and value of credit as well as strategies for building good credit. Teens can also take this opportunity to learn the basics of personal finance, including how to read a bank statement, create a budget, balance a checkbook, take out and repay a loan, or pay a bill. Learning these lessons now may help the next generation avoid the mess previous generations have created.
Working Through Tough Times. A tightening economy has put a lot of strain on American households. Couples are renegotiating their relationships after losing jobs, their homes, and their plans for the future. Teenagers are looking to their parents as role models for what it takes to get through tough times, which creates a wealth of opportunities for parents to instill values in their kids. For example, it is a valuable lesson for teens to see that life doesn’t always go according to plan and that they must remain flexible and have a good attitude even in the face of challenge.
Paying Attention to the Needs of Others. The bad news is jobs for teens are scarce. The good news is teens aren’t letting a tough job market deter them. Many are dedicating time to volunteer work and internship opportunities. According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, nearly seven out of 10 parents say the current economic climate has made their teens "more aware of the needs of others." In addition, more than half of parents said their teens actively support charitable causes or volunteer with a charitable organization. Volunteer service not only helps on college applications but also can be an excellent way to get work experience, learn a new skill, work as a team, and decide on a career.
Finding Creative Uses for Free Time. Not every teen can afford the newest, trendiest clothes right now, but many have found creative ways to expand their wardrobes by making their own clothes, swapping clothes with friends, or shopping at thrift stores. Not every family can afford a summer vacation, and many teens face stiff competition for a summer job, so they have found alternative ways to spend summer break, returning to old favorites like reading, sports, arts and crafts, and volunteering. Although their stress levels may be high, teens are learning to solve their own problems and get creative.
Life is full of hardship, and today’s teens are likely to live through at least one more recession in their lifetimes. What better time than now to learn about fiscal responsibility and discover that life is about much more than designer jeans and instant gratification? No one is happy about the troubled economy, but we can all make the most of the situation by seizing on the teachable moments and sharing a little wisdom with the next generation.