Four young modern women are enjoying their time together

Survey: Teens Are Stressed Over Money

Generation Z reports a high level of anxiety over their financial futures, but parents can help.

Four young modern women are enjoying their time together

Teenagers often see their parents as role models when it comes to money.

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Adults aren’t the only ones worried about their finances in the wake of the Great Recession. High school students are also anxious about their future student loan debt, finding a job one day and never attaining the standard of living their parents enjoy, according to a survey of just over 1,000 13- to 17-year-olds released Friday by H&R Block.

“There’s enough information through social media and the media to put fear in them about their futures,” says Kathy Collins, chief marketing officer for H&R Block. Living through the recession explains much of their anxiety, she notes, as well as a lack of financial education. They seem to have a weak grasp of some basic financial concepts, with most saying they believe members of Congress don’t pay taxes, for example.

“They acknowledge right off the bat that they don’t know much, and they don’t know where to turn to learn about saving and investing, but 75 percent still turn to their parents first,” Collins says. Although parents often say they feel uncomfortable talking about money with their children, Collins points out that most teens see their parents as positive role models when it comes to finances.

[Read: Navigating Post-Recession Adulthood.]

The findings echo earlier studies that look at Gen Y, the cohort currently in their 20s and early 30s. Hartford Funds, an asset management firm, found that millennials are taking an overly conservative approach to investing, which could hurt them in the long run. A 2013 study by the Investment Company Institute found that three-quarters of people under age 35 report not being willing to take “above-average or substantial” investment risks.

T. Rowe Price also released its 2014 Parents, Kids & Money Survey this week, which underscored the challenges of being a financial role model for children. Seven in 10 parents said they are “very concerned” about setting a good financial example for their children, but they also seem to be giving their kids mixed messages. About half admitted to using money to bribe their kids, about three in 10 acknowledged lying about money to their kids and three in 10 said they “borrowed” money from their kids’ piggy bank on occasion.

Parents are anxious about money themselves, with three in 10 losing sleep over college cost worries. Three in four parents said they are hesitant to talk to their kids about money, and three in 10 said they are simply not good with money so shouldn’t be imparting lessons.

[Read: Retirement Advice for Gen Y.]

While stress can be a good motivator in some cases, teens might also need some help managing their money-related anxiety. Collins urges parents to move past any discomfort they might have to talk about money with their kids. “It’s very important that parents have these conversations, so sit down with your kids and talk with them about budgeting and saving for the future,” she says. H&R Block’s website on financial literacy, hrblockdollarsandsense.com, aims to help parents navigate those conversations.

Making these money conversations fun and enjoyable is often the challenge. In the T. Rowe Price survey, most parents said they think games are a good way to teach kids about money, and most kids said they have played games related to saving and spending.

Given the dearth of financial literacy courses in schools, money education often depends on parents initiating those discussions. The Council for Economic Education released a report on financial literacy in schools this week that found most public school students do not take any kind of economics or personal finance course. The council developed the financial game genirevolution.org for middle and high schoolers to help bridge that gap.

[See: 7 Tips to Help Millennials Save for Retirement.]

The key to overcoming young people’s financial stress and lack of comfort with financial topics seems to be making learning fun, and parents often need help as they attempt to do that.