Love Your Kids? Let Them Struggle.

**Originally published on The Huffington Post – February 7, 2017**

“What do you do when your girls are texting you to put money in their account?”

This was the first question asked by a group of parents at a college parent night where I had been invited to speak. The look on this particular dad’s face suggested it wasn’t a hypothetical situation but something that was happening occasionally.

So I turned the question back on him, “What do you do when your girls are texting you to put money in their account?”

I usually put some in there for them, but it never lasts as long as it should.” He replied.

“And why do you put money in their account?” (I had a good feeling about what the answer was going to be before asking, but had to make sure…)

After thinking about his answer for a long 20 seconds, this dad replied, “I love my girls and I don’t want them to struggle.”

At that point I looked around the room at all of the parents and asked four or five of them point blank, “Did YOU struggle when you were 20? Did YOU struggle when you were 20? Did YOU struggle when you were 20?”

All of them, it seemed, had struggled financially while in college. And while I understand the desire to make things better for your children than perhaps the way you experienced life, why have we made struggle and love mutually exclusive for this generation of kids? This particular dad’s answer suggested unless you remove your kids’ struggle you don’t love them, and based on anecdotal research, he’s not alone.

Consider for a moment this logic — If you love your kids, you should let them struggle.


The Millennial generation, and now Generation Z (those students in high school and college currently), have been labeled the most entitled generations ever. And as best-selling author Simon Sinek stated in his interview about Millennials in the workforce, it’s for good reason. These are generations that have grown up with instantaneous access to virtually everything. Want to watch a movie? Netflix. Want to buy something? Amazon. Want a date? Tinder. All of it at the tips of their fingers and without having to wait. (They don’t even have to wait week to week to watch television shows – just binge watch the whole season.)

So what happens when a generation of young people who are used to instantaneous access to most everything, have parents that pay for most everything? (And we wonder why they’re called the Entitlement Generation.)

First of all, stop being the unlimited ATM for your kids. Up until a couple of years ago, my children seemed to believe that their mother and I had a steady stream of twenty dollar bills that magically appeared whenever they needed them. Whether it was a school basketball game, a show choir concert, a pair of jeans they wanted, a movie with friends, or simply asking to get pizza, doughnuts, ice cream or whatever they were hungry for at the time. It felt as if they believed that MY lifestyle was THEIR lifestyle.

It was, of all things, a game of Monopoly that changed things for our family. I hypothesized during one marathon Monopoly game that my kids would play differently if we played with actual cash on the table instead of slips of paper. So one weekend, I put my money where my mouth was and got $10,000 in cash for a high stakes game. The end result prompted a TEDx talk on the subject at the London Business School that’s been viewed over a million times.

After watching my kids make decisions differently in the game with cash versus “fake” money, I realized that we didn’t empower them to make decisions when it came to purchases. That they never struggled with the idea of lack or limits or consequences. Because they never had to.

Push Financial Decisions Down To The Kids

In my research for the documentary Broke, Busted & Disgusted I found that most 18 year olds that we interviewed had never HAD to make a financial decision on their own. Even simple ones were almost always made for them. And now they were facing the largest financial decision of their lives (short of buying a home) with little to no background in how to make it.

The simple fix I’ve found at home is pushing the financial decision making down to the kids’ level. As an example, when it’s time to buy school clothes, many families would head to the mall with a budget in mind and come back spending more than they intended. Instead, consider setting the budget and handing the money over to your teen with the instruction that, “When this is gone, it’s gone. So you’re going to have to budget your purchases accordingly. If you have any left over at the end, it’s yours to keep.” Without sugar-coating it, it’s rocky at first. But the moment your kid ‘gets’ it, it’s a magical thing.

Kids Learn Money By Handling Money

If you believe that your kids will learn how to make, manage and save money in school, think again. School districts wrestle with what to teach, how to teach it, when to plug it into their day, and given the fact it’s an unfunded mandate by most states (not to mention not tested on) teaching money is an afterthought.

Your kids will ultimately learn money by handling it on a weekly basis and therefore need a small weekly stipend to “live on”. We believe in paying our kids a weekly allowance based on a set schedule of chores that need to be done to help our house run smoothly. With their funds they pay for normal everyday activities that used to come out of Mom and Dad’s pockets — things like entrance into school sporting activities, buying food at concession stands, going to movies with friends, and even paying for part of birthday gifts when invited to a friend’s party.

The bottom line is if you are the one paying for their wants and needs, the consequence of you overspending on them is rarely felt by them. They’ll begin to equate your lifestyle with their lifestyle. Instead, let them struggle under the weight of decisions that are made on not having enough to do everything they want to do immediately. A little bit of struggle now will create a young person that makes far better decisions in college when student loans and credit cards are so easy to obtain.

My research and experience with my own children, coupled with hundreds of parents showing genuine interest when I discuss it, led me to create a course showing you the step by step plans to Raising Kids Who Thrive With Money.

And remember, letting them struggle shows you love them.


Adam Carroll is the author of The Money Savvy Student and the co-creator of the documentary Broke, Busted & Disgusted. His kids are “wicked smaht” when it comes to handling, saving, and investing money. Adam has delivered over 1000 speaking engagements in his career and loves a good mic drop.