I’ll never forget sitting in my AP Government class one day, a few weeks after the 2008 financial crisis first hit. My teacher, usually bright and bubbly, seemed distracted and irritated. “Okay,” she said all of a sudden. “I’m really not supposed to do this, but I have to make sure you know this.”
It turns out her son was in a lot of financial trouble because he had taken out more credit cards than he could pay off. This is, unfortunately, an all too common tale.
So she took twenty minutes out of the class to give us a basic rundown of dos and don’ts for credit card application. She rushed through it so that she could get back to the lesson plan and back on track for preparing us for the encroaching AP test. She could have gotten into trouble for deviating so wildly from her lesson plans and subject matter, but she kept saying “I just can’t believe my son never knew this.”
In this way, our schools are failing our kids. Sure, I learned the reproductive cycle of a cell and the proof for the pythagorean theorem, but three years after I graduated high school, my mother had to teach me how to properly scramble eggs without giving myself salmonella. One of these things has been useful to me, while the others haven’t entered my life since I passed the unit test. You can probably guess which is which.
Kids graduate today and are sent into the world without knowing many basic skills that are necessary for everyday life. Schools are strapped in by budget cuts and bureaucracy; they can’t teach many of the things that really matter once you toss your graduation cap. And a lot of these things aren’t as innately known as you might think. Sure, making a left turn in your car seems second nature now, but it had to be explicitly explained the first time or two so that you didn’t cause harm to yourself or anyone else.
The same goes for the following three topics, which must fall to you, dear parents, to teach your kids in order to properly prepare them for the road ahead.
College graduation day used to be a day fueled by tears of nostalgia. Now they’re tears of terror when a student receives their first student loan bill. Our generation’s student debt is currently at $1 trillion and climbing. Couple that with an impenetrable job market? You’ve got yourself what Newsweek once referred to as “Generation Screwed.”
It has never been more important for us to be knowledgeable about our finances. And we, as a generation, are not. In 2012, The Treasury Department and Department of Education administered a financial literacy test to 80,000 high school students. The average score was 69% — a failing grade.
So how do you guard your kid against these harsh realities of millennial life? Teach them about finances. Not just the dangers and precautions to be taken with student loans. Tell them everything: mortgages, stocks, tax forms, investments, savings accounts, checking accounts….these are not the concepts you want them to learn through trial and error. And if you don’t teach them, then who will?
2. Home Economics
You actually used to have this class, back in yesteryear when you rode dinosaurs to schools taught by woolly mammoths. The girls went to learn cooking and sewing while the boys learned woodshop. It still exists in, thankfully, a gender neutral setting. But it’s usually a joke class taught for a few months in middle school. Once again, the teaching must fall to the parent.
Not only will knowledge of basic sewing (my button popped, Mom, can you fix it?) and home repair (Gross, Dad, the drain is clogged with hair!) help their personal finances, safety, and well being, but learning to properly cook could save your kid’s life — and I don’t just say this because I recently visited my friend in the hospital when he contracted salmonella after cooking chicken for the first time. Health and skillful cooking are inextricably connected. I believe everyone with children needs to watch this Ted Talk by Jamie Oliver.
He points out that simply teaching children how to cook for themselves will significantly decrease their intake of sugar and increase their intake of whole, natural foods. This will reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes: all of which are among the top six leading causes of death in the United States.
We are a generation that has not been taught to cook at home, explains Oliver. So we have elected to eat the heavily processed foods that are already prepared for us. And it is killing us.
I personally recommend introducing your child to the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, which not only has great recipes, but it also describes the chemistry behind cooking. It explains why you don’t need a pancake mix, with all its extra artificial ingredients and shelf stabilizers, when you can just use flour and baking powder. It breaks down the chemical process so your kid can improvise and cook without being tied to a recipe.
I mean, you heard the news pundits. My generation is stupid, lazy, and we want everything right now. After a long day at an unpaid internship, we want quick, delicious food to devour whilst we binge-watch Netflix. We’re not going to experiment with a new cooking skill if we’re afraid that an hour’s work will turn into burnt, toxic sludge. Teaching at least ten easy recipes, as Oliver recommends, before your kids graduate will save them from resorting to the drive-thru at Taco Bell after their failed job interview. Which they charge to their third credit card.
It’s really a shame that culinary arts aren’t tied into our chemistry classes, as it seems like such a wasted opportunity. But that just means more quality nagging bonding time with you and your kid.
When I buy a car, which one is going to be the most cost effective? When is the cheaper car going to break down, need repairs, and end up costing more than the slightly more expensive car that I was considering? How do I change my oil? Is wind shield wiper grease a thing? The internet says adding sugar to my gas tank will make it last longer.
Yes, AAA makes our lives a lot easier. If we break down on the road, we can call the magic number, flash our card, and get a free tow. But, with aforementioned job market and crippling debt, not everyone can afford the $80 annual fee. How do we maintain our vehicles as to avoid breaking down on a major highway with cars whizzing by at 95 miles an hour? Besides, even if we have AAA, what happens when we get to the automotive repair shop?
Well, statistically, if we don’t know what we’re doing, they take us to the cleaners. Especially if we’re women. So if you have a daughter, it’s even more important that you teach her basic automotive knowledge. Studies and basic common sense show that if the mechanic thinks you know a thing or two, then they’ll give you a fair price.
I know, this all seems like common sense. “You’re really telling me that you couldn’t figure out how to scramble an egg on your own? For Oz sake woman, just google it!” Of course I could. And I did. But I burned the eggs about five times before I arrived at something remotely edible. When my mom showed me the tricks her mother had taught her as a kid, I got fluffy, delicious eggs. You don’t want your kids to go through trial by fire all the time. And you don’t want a million panicked phone calls asking for your help because they got a flat tire/can’t fix their toilet/fell for a credit card scam, etc. You want to equip them with all the tools necessary to navigate the world on their own.
Don’t get me wrong, your kids will be super annoyed that you’re forcing more education on them. After all, they’ve just spent their day filling their heads with Civil War battle dates, the periodic table of elements, and Jenny’s super cute new hair cut. They’ll probably roll their eyes and try to make an excuse about having really important homework before they go upstairs and make another vlog for their YouTube channel (they have 300 subscribers now!). But they’ll thank you for it when they know how to safely take out a bank loan. Maybe. Perhaps silently. Or, at least, they’ll have enough health and security to put you in a nice home when you’re old and gray. Hopefully.