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It's time for parents and kids to talk money

Update: October, 11/2015 - 22:09

by Thuy Dung

Apart from sex, money might be another topic that is mostly avoided in family. Due to lack of talks about money, adults fail to empower the modern generation with information and skills needed to make informed choices later.

During my childhood, money was always a mystery to me, and my friends. We had tons of questions at home and lots of discussions at school. Are we poor? Why isn't our house as big as my friend's? If you gave my sister a full set of Barbie dolls, why couldn't you buy me a Beats headphone?

My parents, however, tended to put these questions aside. Sometimes, they said it was impolite to ask about money. Sometimes, they would respond directly: "It's none of your business."

Two weeks ago, I attended a reading of the book Tien La Gi (What Is Money?) which is translated into Vietnamese by Nha Nam Publishing House (from the original book: Country Money - How Money Works by William Whitehead, Gerry Bailey and Felicia Law). There were only about 15 participants, which could be considered a small number compared with other book readings.

"Probably most people are aware of what money is," joked Dr Nguyen Duc Thanh, an economist, head of the Vietnam Economics & Policy Research Center (VEPR), who spoke at the discussion. "But the truth is that money is not just about quantitative values."

It's about organising efficiently and a balanced life free of impulses. The result not only might lead to less waste of money but more importantly, could increase self-confidence, efficacy and independence to express their opinions, including whether and when to spend money.

"Vietnamese parents usually say that money would spoil their children. Money is linked with financial problems that adults generally have to face in a negative way," Phung Hong Minh, the book translator and editor of Nha Nam Publishing House, said.

That unintentionally misleads the children that the topic of money is off limits and needs to be avoided at all costs. Some even think they need to try their best to keep their innocent kids from all of this money stuff for… just a bit longer.

This dated notion appeared under the influence of Confucianism, a system of philosophical and ethical-sociopolitical teachings which to some extent undervalues monetary issues. Past generations paid more attention to nurturing their souls and left fiscal responsibility to the government. They were worried that money concerns could lower moral values that were more important.

New research shows that until the age of 11, family plays a predominant role on how children view and understand money. Thanh stressed that teaching kids about money isn't necessarily like reading folk tales every night before sleep. It should be discussed in real-life scenarios. However, "money seems to be regarded as a 'dry' topic and talking about it isn't always easy", he added.

Schools therefore can play their part. Financial education at school is recognised as one of the most efficient for children to approach knowledge properly. Unfortunately it doesn't show up in any Vietnamese grade schools at the moment. This is partly because schools lack the resources to put together their own programme, and partly because they are under pressure to deliver on core elements of the curriculum.

Until now, there're few books about money education for kids in Viet Nam. According to Dr Thanh, books are generally divided into three categories: the outside world, science and technology; art, literature, poems, prose and humanities; and daily problems, life behaviours and skills. However, Vietnamese primarily focus on the first two aspects and ignore the last one. The concept of "financial management" is even first known as students study in the finance faculty at university.

Nguyen Ha Minh, a teacher of financial management in the Olympia Schools (TOS) in Ha Noi - an international school which is among the rarest to teach kids about money - said: "When we get feedback from children, most of them say they're interested to learn about money."

In TOS, learning about financial management progresses through primary and middle into high school, which can be seen as the fairest way to provide young people on a large scale knowledge, skills, and a good attitude about money.

Minh then added: "As a teacher, I see those kids whose parents have businesses tend to understand the knowledge faster or solve the quizzes quicker than the others."

It might imply that by involving parents in their child's financial education, it is possible to encourage them to discuss and model positive financial behaviour in their children.

Like any kind of learning process, money education takes time and might need a longer process since it has always been in our daily lives and there's no way we can avoid it. Particularly, young people are likely to bear more financial risk in adulthood due to a decrease in welfare benefits, increased life expectancy and uncertain economic and job prospects.

According to Thanh, some Vietnamese parents mistake money education with money saving. They even consider the ability to save money as a virtue.

"Money, however, doesn't work that way. Parents need to teach children if they want to buy a bird, they must consider the possibility of spending more money on such complementary goods like a cage, feed and medicine," he added. "But more importantly, parents have to stop avoiding talks about money." — VNS

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