Program Helps Parents, Teens Communicate About Money

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, COLORADO—It’s a refrain that can make the most stoic of parents quake—the voice of a teenager asking, “Mom, dad, can I borrow $500?” A new program is making this conversation, and other discussions of money, easier for teens and parents alike in hopes of creating financially responsible adults.

Through a grant provided by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), Myria Allen, professor of Communication at the University of Arkansas, and her colleague Celia Ray Hayhoe, a professor at Virginia Tech, have created an interactive CD-ROM called “Money Speaks” to help teenagers and their parents communicate about money.

“There is literature out there to help parents and teens talk about sex and about drugs, but there is very little information to help parents and teens talk about money,” Allen said.

“The ‘Money Speaks’ program is an outstanding tool for breaking down the communication barriers between parents and teens when dealing with money-related issues,” added Ted Beck, president and CEO of the Colorado-based National Endowment for Financial Education. “Parents are very influential in shaping the way teens will behave as adults. By stressing the importance of exercising sound financial judgment, they can instill positive habits that will benefit their children throughout their lifetime.”

Before creating the CD-ROM, Allen and Hayhoe surveyed 1,339 students in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Missouri about their spending habits and their communication with parents about money. They discovered that a third of the students didn’t know how their parents managed their credit card balance, a fifth of the students were unaware how their parents handled financial issues and almost half of the students had a credit card themselves. Further, they found that in families with poor communication skills where there was little respect for one another’s attitudes towards money, teenagers seemed to equate money with power, saved less and were more likely to use credit cards.

“We wanted to focus not only on financial knowledge, but on the ways in which families communicate about money,” Allen said.

On the CD-ROM, four teenagers play a reality show “game” where they have to ask their parents if they can borrow $500. One of the teens has bad spending habits and poor communication with his parents; one has poor communication with her parents and good spending habits; one has bad spending habits and good communication skills and the last teen has good spending habits and good communication skills. Throughout the video, the viewer has opportunities to make choices for the “contestants” to help them achieve their goals.

The CD-ROM also contains quizzes for parents and teens to evaluate how well they communicate with one another and how they manage money. In addition, “Money Speaks” covers topics like building trust, talking to teens about money, dealing with conflict, making good decisions, managing financial stress, needs versus wants, spending plans, saving money, understanding credit and values and goals.

“We targeted this age group because we think it is critical to prepare them before they leave home so they can make wise financial decisions,” Allen said.

College students can be bombarded with credit card offers, so understanding how credit works can be crucial in being able to pay off credit card debt. Some of the students in the survey had up to 12 credit cards, and were leaving college with up to $14,000 in credit card debt. While financial information can be found on the Internet, little or no information exists on effective parent-teen communication about money.

“We want the parent and child to walk away from this with an understanding of how to talk about difficult subjects productively," Allen added.

The “Money Speaks” CD-ROM can be purchased for $10 through the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Office online at


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