Managing a bank account, handling credit cards and saving for retirement are practical skills that everyone should have. But most young people are taught painfully little about them.
The National Council on Economic Education said nearly half of the nation's young people know little about practical economics, from managing their own money to understanding how government spending affects them.
In some cases, where youngsters do learn from experience after they mature, the experience itself can be a harsh teacher.
Most adults are wiser from a crisis involving a bounced check or bankruptcy, but their financial standing and lives can be scarred along the way. Such problems can take years to overcome.
Unfortunately, many public school systems are not focusing much on personal finance or economics.
A recent study by the national council indicates that only 17 states require high school students to ake an economics course, with only 14 states requiring a course as a condition for graduation.
The study says only four states Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky and New York require students in high school to take a course covering personal finance as a condition of graduation.
Yet, everyday life will test those students soon on those very issues. Critical issues on public policy, that their votes will influence, will revolve around economic issues.
They need to know how the free enterprise system works, in theory and practice.
Curriculums across the country are becoming more crowded because of state and federal mandates on what must be taught, but states would do well for their students by integrating more economics and personal finance into existing math, language arts and social studies courses.
Educating students about the practical skills they most need in life actually should begin in the first classroom: the home. As noted in a recent Times-Union story, parents should begin talking to children about how to handle financial matters at an early age.
Giving youngsters a weekly allowance with a percentage savings requirement and counseling them on making good financial choices can get them going on the right track. Obtaining odd jobs, opening them savings and checking accounts and introducing them to the use of credit cards can all be useful tools in helping youths learn how to be successful in handling their own affairs.
It's also important to share with them the importance of saving money right away once they enter the work world. By saving early and sticking with it, teenagers today can have the option of retiring without depending entirely on the government's pension program, provided they make good decisions.
Young people can learn the easy way about finance now or the hard way later.
Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville
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