During bad economic times, parents don't just have to make ends meet; they also have to take steps to minimize the negative impact the economy might have on their kids.

If ABC Family needs to create another television series, perhaps writers can use real-world economic drama for inspiration. Maybe the new show could be called Foreclosing with the Jones Family, or Teens without College Funding.

Getting hit from all directions

Parents can try to shelter their children from the woes of the economy, but it may be tough. The combined impact of rising unemployment, slowing consumer spending, tight credit markets, and volatile equity markets can affect kids of all ages in a variety of ways. For example:

  • Less free time. Teens may be forced to get part-time jobs to contribute to the family budget. Typically, working youths are less likely to get into trouble-but they'll also feel the stress of balancing a job with homework and social activities.
  • Fewer choices after high school. Gone are the days when parents could fund a private school education with home equity debt. Many high school students will find their options for college are far more limited than they might have been just two years ago. The problem is exacerbated by the condition of the equity markets. Those students who had sizeable college funds may have seen their account balances decline significantly in the past 12 months.
  • Stressed-out parents. Some studies indicate that domestic violence increases when economic conditions are bad. Family members get laid off and spend more time at home together; tempers flare as everyone tries to adjust to the new situation. Stress can also build if one parent is working two jobs. Lack of sleep combined with feelings of despair can contribute to family arguments that quickly spin out of control.
  • New living situations. Foreclosure is still an epidemic in this country. The kids involved have to absorb the stresses of relocating, and possibly switching schools. Inevitably, they'll have to explain to someone why they're moving-which is awkward conversation even for an adult to have.

Stability is the key

Unfortunately, there's no formula that protects kids from the stresses of a bad economy. Parents have to focus on keeping the home life as stable as possible, no matter what happens. Younger children won't understand what's going on, and they'll need reassurance that they haven't done anything wrong. Teenagers will benefit from seeing their parents making responsible budgeting decisions to manage the crisis. Most importantly, parents should resist the urge to lash out under the stress. Kids don't need to see their parents reacting violently or irrationally to circumstances that they can't control.

In this changing economic climate, most American households will have to make adjustments. Parents have the added responsibility of keeping emotions in check, and insulating their kids from excessive stress. Family turmoil is fine for prime time TV, but that's where it should stay.

Published on November 23, 2009