Teenage Flashes Of Brilliance

Christine has 13-year-old twins, and one of them has autism. She's teaching her other son to help his brother, but how much is too much?

QUESTION: Christine in Los Angeles has 13-year-old twins, and one of them has autism. She has multiple medical conditions and will likely not be around to help the special needs son into adulthood. She’s teaching her other son to help his brother, but how much is too much? Dave says she has to be careful not to put too much on the healthy son.

ANSWER: He’s at an age that it depends on how much resistance he throws up. I haven’t forced my kids to read particular books, but I did say they were really good books and they might want to go through them because this is adult stuff. The heart’s desire of every 13-year-old is to be treated like an adult. They don’t act that way, but their heart’s desire is to be treated that way. Sometimes they do in flashes of brilliance, but it’s not a steady thing; they’re 13. When he’s having some of those flashes of brilliance, let him plow through one of those books. But I’m not going to crack a whip on him and tell him it has to be done because his father is inept. That would be inappropriate.

What you don’t want to do is, because your husband is so emotionally absent on this, turn the 13-year-old into the man of the house. Take the same energy that you were going to dump too much on the 13-year-old and jack your husband’s head open. That’s a different conversation. That’s a marriage conversation. But how much is appropriate for a 13-year-old has to do with him and not you. It has to do with him and not his autistic brother. And it has to do with him and not his father financially and emotionally abandoning the family. None of that should be put on the 13-year-old. But if the 13-year-old can be encouraged to learn about mutual funds and read some career or money books, he’ll like that kind of stuff if he’s got an interest in. If he uttered the words, “Dave Ramsey rocks,” he’ll like that kind of stuff. But if he says, “Dave Ramsey sucks,” then you don’t want to dump these books on him. What I’m saying is something I’m saying is touching the adult part of him. Let’s activate that, but let’s not burden him with your problems. I don’t want to have a conversation about him where you bring up your childhood.

Regardless of what you do, he’s going to do some really smart things, and he’s going to do some really stupid things. Enjoy the ride. I think you’ve got a good kid, and he’s got an ear tuned to this. Don’t ruin it by setting a stack of 17 books on his desk.

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