The task for parents is teaching little ones to value something they can't chew
THE WORLD is a duller place now that the latest series of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? has run its course. I have found the TV quiz show where contestants must answer 15 multiple-choice question on a tortuous road to win the pounds 1m top prize quite compelling. I am not alone. I now find my two children aged four and seven are equally avid fans. Like me, they enjoy the fun of the format but they are also fascinated by the prospect of winning large sums of money.

There is an element of fantasy and escapism as we construct lists of toys and sweets we would acquire with our takings, but it also provides me with a timely reminder of the need to consider financial education as an element of their broader schooling.

I therefore add my endorsement to the initiative from Virgin Direct which this week launched a website called Young Money which is designed to encourage 14 to 18-year-olds to think about the importance of financial management as they approach adulthood. Like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, the website takes a multiple-choice quiz format and a correct answer earns points which can be invested or spent. The site is designed to inject an element of fun into what might be otherwise deemed a rather dull subject. If I could remember what dominated my thinking at the age of 18 I'm sure it would not have been long-term savings and investment programmes.

My one criticism of the site is that the target audience is too old. The issue I am grappling with at present is how to educate my two at four and seven about the black arts of finance. Here it is not so much the children who need the education but me.

It never ceases to amaze me to witness just how much wisdom, or folly, is received by children from their parents.When Sam was four I had to enter serious negotiations about bedtime, which still require a combination of diplomacy, cunning and sheer brutality. He was playing with his toys and I insisted he could have five more minutes before he climbed the wooden hill.

"Please daddy," he implored. "Can't I have two minutes."

I was taken aback by his readiness to not just accede to but also exceed my wishes and then it dawned on me. Often, when he was demanding my attention, I would say: "Give me two minutes, Sam, and I will be with you."

To the adult mind, two minutes is merely a turn of phrase, a verbal shorthand for, "as soon as I can".

To a four-year-old who is only just beginning to grasp the concept of time two minutes is a fixed period and very often quite a long period. In Sam's mind, two minutes was much longer than the five minutes I was offering

At seven, Sam has grown to understand that two minutes is a figure of speech. Bedtime negotiations are still extremely complex but at least we now deal in mutually-understood units of time.

What I d wonder is what everyday expressions I use in relation to money are colouring his view of the financial world, and his sister's view, too. Clearly, neither have a real concept of the value of money. As we played Who Wants To Be A Millionaire together last weekend a prize of pounds 200 was as good as a prize of pounds 32,000 to the children, given that all they really wanted then was a tube of wine gums.

They have a fascination with money but they are not really interested in its accumulation or power. I remember Kate's glee at recently finding a penny on the ground. It was an important find but its significance was short-lived. Having shown her new treasure to anyone who was prepared to listen to her story, the coin was handed to me and immediately forgotten.

I see my task now as trying to instill some sense of the value of money into the children. It still surprises me that two cheap trinkets which cost 50p are seen as better than one toy which cost pounds 5. It is quantity rather than quality which counts in the world of sibling rivalry.

The importance of saving is also being addressed. Sam accumulates his pocket money if there is a particular toy he wants. I am not convinced this creates any foundation of substance on which to build a healthy understanding of the importance of long-term pensions provision but it is probably a step in the right direction.

I have no desire to turn the children into property speculators, currency traders or industrial barons. But I do not want to encourage ignorance inadvertently, in an area which will ultimately play a large part in their lives.

The Virgin Direct website is a welcome and worthy innovation. Financial education has to start somewhere and on that basis the age of 14 is a better place than nowhere.

If the website can be seen as the beginning of a process rather than the end, and if it can begin to provoke thought and debate among parents, then the prospect of creating a quest for financial literacy is greatly increased.

The Government says it is considering putting financial literacy on the National Curriculum. This is an admirable objective which augurs well for our children, and our children's children.

I see no need to hothouse my youngsters on the subject but I would be grateful for some advice on the best approach to take with them, even at their tender age.

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