Good-bye Teenage Retirement

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In the next few weeks I will give more detail on how we worked our age bench marks in helping our children become more responsible and self-reliant. I posted about this in my first year of blogging but I will go over it again.

The whole motive for doing this is to help your children succeed in their adult lives.

It is not to punish them or stress them out. When you talk to your 12-year-old, you can have an excited voice and tell them how this will help them be a great teenager!  I would tell my children how lucky they are to learn how to do this so they will be ready to launch in 6 years. When you frame your discussion that you want them to be a hero in their own story, you can say how irresponsible it would be for you as a parent to pay for everything and then expect them to know how to take care of themselves without any training. You can tell them that if they work hard and you work hard, you both can launch them  together.

James Jones, the author, coined the phrase, “teenage retirement”. He had a program called “Fix the Kids” but we found it too punishing and complicated. He did raise our awareness on teenage retirement. We as a culture have created monster schedules with school, sports and church activities. Because of this, teenagers aren’t required to work like they have been in generations past. You are resetting their expectation that you will provide everything they need and want. Once they understand that they are responsible for paying for their own school clothes, and their own entertainment, they will start choosing things that are important to them. You can still pay for whatever you want to pay for. That’s what I have loved about these age bench marks. Your children will start noticing something they used to take for granted. When we went to movies as a family, we would say, “Hey, it’s on us tonight” and they would be so grateful instead of just taking it for granted.

The other thing this allows them to do is choose their clothes themselves. One mother I know had her children buy their clothes but was controlling about what they bought. You have taught them to be modest all of their lives. You have to trust them.

I, as a mother of an almost 12-year-old, would buy them a lot of clothes to prepare for this shift in responsibility. After they turned 12, I would buy them clothes when I saw it was a good deal and say, ” I found such a good deal on this—I will let you have it for 5 dollars.”

I also would pay for socks, underwear, and church clothes.  I have found they don’t care about any of these clothing needs! I pay for all sports equipment, clothes and shoes. I would buy them a first day of school outfit. I pay half on their shoes so that they buy quality shoes. We also pay for prom/dance clothes, graduation robes, mission clothes and post-mission clothes. I have found they are only motivated by what their friends see, and that is their school clothes.

We also pay for their grades in middle and high school. Fifty dollars a term in middle school, 100 dollars a term for straight As and A-‘s, or 10 dollars an A in high school. Initially it was all or nothing. A good friend, Nan,  said, “ Wow! Isn’t that a little harsh? They don’t get anything if they got all A’s and one B?” So we readjusted. See! I’m open to feedback! So if they are enrolled in 7 classes and if they have all A’s they get $100.00. If they get 6 A’s and 1 B, they are bummed when they miss out on the extra 40 dollars they would’ve earned in the class they got a B in had it been an A. It’s the last 5 percent of effort that would bring 40 percent more money. That reinforces a great principle on effort and getting good grades.

We paid for them to pass off music every month so they didn’t lose the hymns and recital pieces they slaved over. The musical pieces have to be played without any mistakes. Nooooo mistakes. It is such a great reinforcer to keeping their music fresh and available. I would love how my children would come and ask—”Can I pass off my hymns?” I asked my musical sister-in-law Jeannie, about how many hymns they needed to know to be able to accompany in church meetings. She said ten would get them through most of the time. My lofty goal was initially 30 hymns. Then I faced reality and whittled that down to 10 hymns. Now if they know 5—I am happy.

When they get these chunks of money from grades or passing off their music each month, they can bolster their clothes supply. They also get money for their birthdays. They are also getting babysitting or lawnmowing money. They also were always eager to babysit for us because that was easy money for them.

The great thing is they are motivated to get a low price when they go shopping. My kids don’t wear 100 dollar jeans. They don’t want to pay for that! They shop for sales and look hard for good deals.

Better yet they are not putting pressure on me to buy them.

The best part is when they are responsible for their own clothes their perspective changes dramatically. That is the whole reason we made the switch. The entitlement changes to gratitude. When I shop with them, now and then I’ll buy them something they can’t afford and THEY ARE SO GRATEFUL! I can also be super generous and offer to buy them something out of the blue. I’ll say, “ That is so cute on you! I know it’s not in your budget, but I love rewarding great kids that are working hard.” What a difference it makes to come out of a store and have them hugging you and being so excited instead of one where you had to put limits on their spending, and “everyone has more clothes than me!” They are putting their own limits! You have managed their expectations. It’s so great.

Some people balk at the idea of paying your kids for grades, paying them for doing extra jobs around the house or paying them for passing off music. Most of the financial literature for children encourages parents to give their kids an allowance to help them manage their money. I struggle with giving away money with no effort given. I like them to “labor by the sweat of their brow” like my husband and I do to earn, budget and save. James Jones says you provide money for your children either way. You can give it to them in the form of an allowance, or funnel it to them having them accomplish things or do extra jobs around the house to receive the money.

One of my friends says that her children aren’t motivated by money. If everything was given to them they probably wouldn’t be. But that is how the real world works, you are teaching them the currency of adult life and to be responsible for what they want. Not you.

My youngest son went with me to Dillard’s. I was there for something else and he went off to the men’s section and found a pair of cords for 75% off. He was so thrilled! I love that the hunt becomes theirs. I love that by now, at 18, he has become a bargain shopper.

One son, Chase, started designing and silk screening his own shirts in order to save on clothes. It was amazing. He would come up from the basement and show us his latest design and we would ooohh and aaahhh. He and his friends would spend hours in his room cutting out stencils with an exacto knife and experimenting with the colors. Part of his room had a tile floor where he could work with paint. I had to turn a blind eye to the sink in that little mini-kitchen. The hours spent creating and having a little shirt factory down there was worth the trade-off. He also sold quite a few shirts. I recently came upon his bag of plastic stencils that he had carefully designed and cut out and it brought back so many memories of his excitement and passion when he had come up with a new design.  He figured out how to have amazing t-shirts for 2 dollars a shirt instead of 40, involve his friends, and not feel like he was “working” for his clothes. Another daughter saved up for classics that she could wear longer and that has inspired me to be more careful of what I buy.

When your kids buy their clothes, they usually take really good care of them. They take ownership. It’s their money going down the drain if they don’t hang them up or ruin them  in the wash.

As far as entertainment goes, they can save up to go to movies that are important to them or anything else. You have chosen this age bench mark because it is something they care about. It becomes punishing for them if they don’t care about it. So what if they don’t care what clothes they wear? I haven’t dealt with this with my children. I guess I  would keep finding them clothes and selling them for a discount for them. What you are saying to them is, “I am helping you learn how to take care of yourself. When you are an adult, you have to buy your own clothes. I will help you learn how to do it.”

Being responsible for their own clothes and entertainment also cuts into their free time which is a good thing. When they have to work for something it frames their leisure time so there isn’t so much of it.

This is one of the best things we have done in raising our children. It is all of us working together to mine each child’s potential. I have loved how resourceful they have become. We are excited when they have a successful babysitting job,  and we help them have a tithing jar, a savings jar for a mission fund, and a jar for spending money.  What have you done to help your teenagers be more responsible? Please share below!


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