Well Told Story has recently been doing some interesting GroundTruth research work looking at how young people feel about and use money. One finding that surprised us a little was how vehement young people were that they didn’t want to talk to adults (their parents) about money at all. In fact many of those we spoke to said that they ranked money and sex as equally difficult topics and stated that both were to be avoided.
With sex it seems reasonably obvious why (especially in a culture where no-one talks about it openly) but with money the reason wasn’t quite so clear – surely money is not a taboo subject? So when we asked our Shujaaz audience why they hated talking to parents about money they all said the same thing: “We hate it because if we ask for money they always say ‘What for?’“
Now to the adults in our research team this seemed a fairly innocuous question and perhaps quite understandable. It turns out to be nothing of the sort. In fact it becomes the entry point to a series of questions about what the young person is currently doing and intends to do. Then the parent takes over and contests the outlined expenditure. Initially the intervention seems to be about choice “You want it for a pizza? There is perfectly good ugali at home.” But then it moves to lifestyle comparison and guilt tripping: “You want a soda – why can’t you drink water like we did when we were young?”. “You don’t need 100 bob for a bus fare why can’t you walk? We did.” Finally it ends up with the assumption of negative intentions “You only want it to spend on drinks and parties”. This can get worse if a young person mentions that they have some money of their own “What? Have you been selling drugs? Are you selling your body?” is the instant response followed by “Tell me what have you been doing? Where were you when….?” Some parents will then demand that what little money you have is handed over as a ‘contribution’ to family life.
The message is clear – talk to parents about money and they start questioning your choices, challenging your behaviours and desires, accusing you of immoral activities, asking for contributions – in short, taking over your life – the last thing you want, better not to raise the topic at all.