Children and teens, ages 8 to 18, spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day using entertainment media, according to a recent U.S. survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. That's a lot of time Tweeting, texting and watching videos of the Biebs and bulldogs who skateboard. How much of our children's online use is devoted to exploring personal finance sites?
If the answer is unclear or it's zero, then introducing them to some sites they can relate to might be a way to tear them from their media multitasking and onto something of real value. Some suggested sites to start with are below.
At this age, it's important for the site to be fun and interactive while still providing useful information. In the online game Savings Quest, your children will choose a job, earn a paycheque, set a savings goal and work toward it. Throughout the process of working toward the desired goal, unexpected expenses are thrown into the game to simulate real life situations. Some of the concepts are slightly more advanced so it might be useful to play along with your child. If you're looking for other games to play with your young children to teach them about money, check out MoneyInstructor.com. Most games suggest using cards, dice or coins - things that your kids are already familiar with playing or using.
Great resources for girls ages 9 to 14 can be found online at Girls Inc. With some help from mom and dad, girls can create their own online profile and then take part in interactive money games that show you how to save money, make it grow, start a business, etc. The site also has suggested reading material for parents as well as suggested reading material for kids and teens.
Ages 15 and up
I'm a big fan of the virtual world known as The City. Here, teens and young adults can learn about basic financial life skills relevant to their lives by becoming a character and encountering real life scenarios. If you've ever heard your teens talk about FarmVille or SimCity, they might be into this. The Money Belt also features tools, quizzes and quick tips for your teen.
You should also encourage your kids to test out stock simulators at such sites as Investopedia.com. They can play a number of games to suit their investment levels and interests. If your children get to select stocks in their favourite stores, places or restaurants, it may increase their interest in the simulation. It will also be easier to bring the virtual world to real life when you talk to your kids about money. The site is also great for a junior investor as it covers the basics of personal finance.
Of course, the lessons your children and teens take away from these sites will go a lot further if there is a little incentive, and a lot of communication about what was learned and how it can be applied to real life - even if those conversations happen to be via texting.