What Teens Worry About: Drugs, Sex and … Future Salaries?

A bunch of new surveys about teens and money all point one direction: The kids are learning less and feeling terrible about it. Where is the adult supervision?

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You might think teens have it easy. But they worry about a lot: bullying, getting into college, fitting in, finding a date. Now add earning enough money to the list.

Just 56% of teens aged 14-18 believe they will be as well off financially as their parents, according to a Junior Achievement and Allstate Foundation survey. So much for the optimism of youth. That’s down from 89% in the same survey one year earlier. In another major shift, the survey found that teens are pushing back the age at which they expect to be financially independent; more now say they will be at least 25 years old before they are on their own, compared to 20 in the earlier sample.

(MORE: College Students Are Credit Card Dunces)

What gives? According to USA Today, there is a cumulative effect after so many years of recession and slow growth. Teens have seen family and friends lose jobs and homes; they can’t help but feel vulnerable. The paper reports:

“Many kids were shielded by parents during the downturn, says Rob Callender, director of insights at youth research firm TRU. Moms and dads would do without to avoid taking things away from the kids. As finances dwindled, though, those parents have been forced to level with the kids about their economic reality.”

Teens have also had trouble finding summer jobs, though prospects are better this year. And teens report getting fewer money lessons in school. According to the JA poll, just 24% say teachers instruct them about how to manage money, down from 58% a year earlier. This jibes with a report from the Council for Economic Education, which found that fewer states are requiring schools to test in the area of economics and to offer a personal finance course.

Teens may also be suffering from what many adults acknowledge: parents are horrible role models when it comes to things like saving and budgets. Only half of parents regularly set aside money to save; only 43% set financial goals; and only 24% take specific steps to diversify their investments, according to a T. Rowe Price Parents, Kids and Money survey.

(MORE: The Jobless Generation)

In the JA survey, teens reported a significant drop in parents saving as a result of the recession—21% this year vs. 59% last year. As you might expect, teens are modeling that behavior. Just 56% plan to save some of their income, down from 89% a year ago, according to JA. It’s not just a plan; it’s happening, according to the Pew Research Center, which found that young adults are getting a slower start saving for retirement.

It should come as no surprise then that fewer teens are practicing sound money management skills. JA found a three-fold increase in teens that report not budgeting. This largely confirms a separate survey by Schwab, which found a sharp fall off in teen money management ability. According to that survey, just a quarter of 18-year-olds know how to manage a credit card—down from two-thirds. Less than half know how to check the accuracy of a bank statement—down from 60%.

This all represents a huge setback in the push for a more financially literate population, which many see as our best hope for staving off another financial crisis. In this environment, debilitating teen money myths are sure to persist. Here is how you can do something about it.

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