Google the phrase "Talk to your kids about..." and what comes up? In order: "sex," "puberty," "drugs," and "alcohol." Even "Star Wars" and "art school" pop up before the word "money."
It's clear that parents aren't discussing money with their kids. But, as I wrote in an op-ed in Monday's Wall Street Journal, they just got a wake-up call that they have to start, given American teenagers' mediocre scores on the first-ever international PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test on financial literacy.
But a viral website offers a glimmer of hope. In a terrific confluence of events, my op-ed ran on the very same day that Money as You Grow, the site I helped develop as a member of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, topped one million unique visitors! A viral personal finance site sounds like an oxymoron, but the traffic was driven by moms on Pinterest and Facebook, making it clear that families are hungry for this information.
Not sure how to start the kids and money conversation? Here are tips on talking to kids of all ages, taken from the milestones and activities you will find on MoneyAsYouGrow.org:
• If your kid is 3-5 years old: To teach toddlers that you earn money by working, walk through your neighborhood and point out people doing their jobs, like the camp bus driver or a police officer.
• If your kid is 6-10 years old: Explain to your child that putting his money in a savings account will protect it and pay him interest. Before summer ends, take him to a nearby bank or credit union and open a savings account for him. Then, show him that the account is earning interest -- a few pennies ain't much for grownups, but it's a lot for little kids.
• If your kid is 11-13 years old: Teach your tween to save a dime for every dollar. If your daughter has a little money coming in -- whether from a summer job, allowance, or a birthday check from grandma -- have her set a goal to buy something she wants and work toward that amount.
• If your kid is 14-18 years old: As early as ninth grade, explain to your teen that when comparing colleges, he must consider how much each school will cost. Have a frank discussion about how much you can contribute to his college tuition and expenses each year, and help him research additional loans, scholarships and grants at studentaid.ed.gov.
• If your kid is 18+ years old: Young adults need to know that they should use a credit card only if they can pay off the money owed in full each month. Explain that there may be an emergency expense that she can't pay off immediately and needs to charge (for example, if her car breaks down). That's why it's important not to charge everyday items.
Remember, every little conversation adds up. So swap the Star Wars talk for a real Jedi mind trick: raising a financially-savvy kid.
© 2014 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved
Beth Kobliner is the author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties, and is currently writing a new book for parents, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You're Not), to be published by Simon & Schuster. She was recently appointed by President Obama to the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. Visit her at bethkobliner.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.