An Obscure But IMPORTANT Financial Lesson for Teens


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Our son was sixteen, just driving for about four months. Already he’d managed to scrape three side panels of his friend’s car as he pulled into the adjacent parking spot. (“Oh, no problem!” his friend quipped. “It’s a wreck already!” “Whew!,” we sighed!) And someone else had slammed into his car as he backed slowly out of his spot but the other driver tore through the student parking lot at 30+ mph!

So it was a good thing that when our boy called one late afternoon to say he’d had a wreck, could we come…that his dad was home and went right away. Honestly, as you can see from the photo above, the damage to the lady’s bumper could have been done with a key, it was so slight. Still, it was a Mercedes and she did want to get it fixed properly. She kindly volunteered to take it for estimates and let us know what he’d owe. Having more than one under-25 year old driver on our insurance, we were resolute that we would not claim it but have our son pay the damages himself. It was a harsh lesson but. . .

But we didn’t realize until the estimate arrived HOW harsh! That little tiny, almost-didn’t-happen scratch, $1600! How could you expect a young kid to pay that much! And yet, we did. And he lamented, fretted, wrung his hands, gave us talk-back, blew up in anger and declared us “unfair”. We suggested maybe he use his savings, his birthday money, etc. As it turned out, his dad did him a favor and paid for the repair directly but then our boy repaid the debt, month after painful month. Summer earnings. Travel fun money. Savings. Gifts. The running account was posted on the refrigerator door. By almost a year later, Christmas approached and I had a great idea: we’d “gift” our boy with the final amount, about $60….then he could start the new year debt free.

ABSOLUTELY NOT! my husband replied emphatically.

He made a strong case for the maturity, the joy, the sense of accomplishment, the sense of adult responsibility fulfilled…. We did not “give” the last little bit to our son.

But what we DID do early the following winter was to celebrate his final payment along with him. He was SO proud_ it was as if we saw him grow ten inches taller that day as he squared his shoulders, approached his dad and handed him the final payment.

My old favorite saying really came to life that day…and all it’s ramifications:


Our kids actually sometimes suffer because we remove the consequences…so they have to “take the lesson” again in order to learn it. So I’ve added a corollary to my favorite saying above…

Mistakes + Consequences = Learning . . . and the sooner we allow the consequences to befall them, the cheaper the lesson whether in money or heartache.

So, it might seem crazy, but when your kids make mistakes, be on the look-out for consequences which can help them learn. And don’t be too worried about allowing them to befall the kid. AND don’t be surprised if you see them grow right before your very eyes!