Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The best thing I've done for my son

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 10:26 AM EDT, Wed April 18, 2012
Should teens have debit cards? LZ Granderson thinks so.
Should teens have debit cards? LZ Granderson thinks so.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson accidentally engaged in good parenting by giving his son a debit card
  • LZ's son, in control of his money, compared prices, went to sales, returned stuff
  • Now LZ's son understands how you must conserve money and spend wisely
  • LZ says parents need to speak truthfully to their kids about household finances, money

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs Watch him on Tuesdays on CNN Newsroom in the 9 am ET hour.

(CNN) -- We do a lot for -- and to -- our children in the name of parenting. I know when I get it kinda right, I know when I get it mostly wrong, and I know when I've been lucky. I will tell you that giving my teenage son a debit check card last summer was the best thing I've ever done for him. I will also tell you that move was pure luck.

I didn't plan to give him the card in order to teach him some grand lesson about life. I'm not that clever. Truth is, I was dropping him off at a monthlong summer camp and wanted to make sure he had some money in his pocket for pizza. So when I picked him up and he told me he had money left over, I was confused.

"Whose child is this and where is mine?"

This couldn't be my son because my son claims he can barely get by with $50 on a night out with his friends. Clearly I had picked up Suze Orman's kid by mistake.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Intrigued, I decided to see if he was really frugal or if he had just misplaced his card for a couple of weeks and didn't want to tell me. So I deposited the money I had set aside for shopping for his school clothes into his account and told him to make it work.

And man, did he ever.

My son was comparing prices -- hitting the sale racks -- and he even returned items he later deemed too expensive or unnecessary. All on his own. It was like the Hunger Games in a mall.

Since then, pizzas only need one topping, chai lattes are few and far between and he packs his own lunch instead of hitting the fast food places down the street from school.

"The first few times I blew it," my 15-year-old told me. "I'd have all of this stuff and the cashier would be, like, 'I'm sorry, sir, your card has been declined.' I'd stand there and look surprised, my response was normally something like 'Whaaaaat? Or 'Really? Hmm, one moment. I need to call my dad.' But you wouldn't always pick up, so I'd have to take stuff back. Now I've learned to keep up with my balance so I can save myself the embarrassment."

In other words, he's gotten cheap. And not because I made him do anything, but because he's figuring life out for himself. It was the first time in my life I knew I was doing a good job. Grades, opening door for strangers, saying thank you, those are all signs that he listens to me. Making good decisions as an independent free thinker, that's a sign that he gets it.

Seeing my son's relationship with money transform in less than a year provided me with a snapshot of what his behavior might look like when he's an adult, and all I could do was smile and exhale, thinking "He's going to be all right. "

Growing up, I didn't know anything about money other than we didn't have any. In retrospect, it would've been helpful if my parents had told me why. But as the research shows, most parents have the money talk in the same way they have the sex talk, and that is to say, they don't.

T. Rowe Price released a study last month that found 77% of parents don't always tell their kids the truth about money matters, and nearly a third of parents surveyed said they don't talk to their kids about family finances at all. I guess part of the reason is that the picture isn't always very pretty. In 2007, U.S. household debt was equal to the GDP. But just because the money talk isn't comfortable doesn't mean we should avoid it, and a debit check card is a good way to bring it up.

I have found since my son has started to feel the pain firsthand, when I talk to him about the bills around the house, he listens with empathy. When I remind him to turn the lights off when he leaves a room, he has an understanding of why that goes beyond "because I said so." I still run him to track practice, the movies, anywhere he wants to go, but he gets why I plot out the errands ahead of time so I can use the least amount of gas possible.

Best of all, when he asks for something I think is unreasonable, I don't lie and tell him we can't afford it -- as nearly 33% of parents do. Rather I tell him the truth: It's not worth it. And I tell him why.

You know for years, I've heard financial experts stress the importance of teaching your kids about money, but it wasn't until I saw my own son's perspective change that I became a true believer. So, I encourage all parents out there to give it a try with their kids. I promise, even if you open a checking account for them and only deposit $10, the return in their lives will come back a hundredfold in wisdom.

Over spring break I read him the story about Warren Sapp, the former NFL star who recently filed for bankruptcy. I didn't mean to laugh at someone else's misfortune, but we both couldn't help but crack up when I told him among Sapp's listed "assets" were 240 pairs of Jordan athletic shoes worth an estimated $6,500.

"How is that an asset?" my son asked.

"It's not," I said.

And then we started laughing again -- him because the story was funny, me because I know I just got lucky.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT