leahparentIt’s very simple: that their well-being is priceless.

I was recently privileged to attend a discussion in which teen gave their thoughts on various health care issues. It was engaging, enlightening, and eye-opening. One unexpected thing I heard- from multiple teens- about getting health care was that they wished it didn’t cost their parents so much money, and that they felt bad being a burden.

I and other health care providers present were taken aback. Our society tends to paint teens as self-centered and even selfish. Listening to a teen talk about how they might not tell their parents if they were ill, hoping to save them money on an expensive medication, was heartbreaking. 

Children cost money. Teens, with their drivers’ licenses and study abroad opportunities and impending adulthood, can cost a lot. But I think the vast majority of parents would agree that the financial costs of having a teen, while they may be stressful, are nothing at all compared to that teen’s health and well-being.

Most teens know, logically, that their parents would rather spend money than have them suffer. But many teens, especially those who are particularly empathetic and mature, may balk at the high cost of their maintenance and care.

I’m not saying that teens shouldn’t be taught the value of money; in fact, I think it’s a very important lesson that families should teach in an ongoing manner. But also I think that families also need to make sure their teen knows that they come first; that expenses involve with things like health and education are more than worth it.

How do you get this message across without making it seem like you want your teen to spend unlimited amounts- or introducing the topic of their cost into their heads?

  • Make talking about money a regular occurrence. I don’t mean talking about how much everything costs and how the family needs to save money- although you can certainly discuss that if you like. I mean that when you’re planning for the next week, month, or year for the family, loop your teen in. See what their ideas are and tell them what you’re thinking. Don’t make it a time to argue, just to get your teen’s input and thank them for it.
  • If you need to have an adults-only conversation about money, make sure your teen isn’t around to listen to it. This is especially true if you’re fighting with another family member, when harsh words might fly in the heat of the moment. If your family is in financial difficulty, it’s good to let your teen know- but in a calm discussion that is appropriate for their maturity level and won’t cause guilt.
  • I’ve said this before, but your teen having a job- even if just for one summer- can be incredibly helpful for their world view. If you’re worried that your teen wants to spend a lot of money on things they don’t need, there’s nothing wrong with asking them to pay for them.
  • If there are care costs in your family, from a newborn who needs specialized interventions to an elder who needs assisted living, it’s a great opportunity to talk to your teen about how loved ones are infinitely more important than money.
  • If your teen needs health care, now or as an adult, it’s usually better to be seen earlier than later. With the Affordable Care Act, young adults have much better access to health insurance and preventative care. Help your teen learn what symptoms can be cared for at home, and when a visit to a professional is the best choice.
  • Remind your teen that no matter how much they might cost you, they are priceless and you love them. If they’re worried about causing unavoidable expenses, tell them it’s your concern, not theirs. Redirect them to ways they can help the family if possible, like doing some extra chores, babysitting a sibling, or even redecorating the house. Or you can tell them that if they have kids, they can pay you back by being good parents and making sure their children are happy and healthy- just like you’re doing right now.