Families struggle to take away lessons from recessionby Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
Rogers, Minn. — Job loss is tough on anyone-- and especially hard on parents who have to come home and break the news to their family.
Experts say ongoing communication is important under such circumstances and teenage children may be in a better position to understand and learn from the family's predicament than younger kids. But sometimes the lessons teens take away from job loss can be pretty different from what parents might hope
On a recent evening at the Kaser household in suburban Rogers, you could feel all the weight of the recession leaning hard on one simple question: Should 13-year-old Travis get a new calculator?
Tony Kaser, Travis' father, is leaning toward 'no,' as Travis protests.
Tony takes aim at the calculator's usefulness, but what's really at stake is the price tag. It's $80, and money is tight.
Tony and Julie Kaser are used to having these conversations lately with their teenage daughter and son. Tony Kaser lost his job as a computer programmer in November. Less than a month later, Julie lost her job as an X-ray technician and now only scraps together part-time work.
Foreclosure will likely push them from the house they built nine years ago; a loss they say will be devastating.
The Kasers admit that communicating with their kids about their financial situation has been tough, but they've been as open as possible.
Family counseling and financial planning experts say this is the right approach. They say parents should reassure their children that things will turn out OK, but in the meantime, the family has to cut back on expenses. Teenagers are best able to understand the family's plight and may even be in a position to help out.
Julie Kaser anguishes over having her kids go through this, but she thinks it all can lead to good lessons on personal values.
"I think the biggest message we've given these kids is we stay together through all this together and count your blessings," she said. "Count your blessings of our friends and family members who have been there and helped us."
And then of course there's the lesson about finances.
"I think they see that money is real, that you're accountable for your money and what you do with that," said Julie Kaser. "But I also see them knowing that we didn't just drink the house away. They realize that it was just no fault of our own."
But all those messages are sometimes at odds with what the kids pick up on. Ashley Kaser, 19, agrees with some of her mom's points.
"I know they're looking for jobs, and I know they didn't do anything to lose their jobs," she said. "It was just because of the economy that they lost their jobs."
But there's also part of Ashley that does cast some blame. She wishes her parents had set money aside -- not just for a financial crisis like this one, but also for her college education, which she has to pay for herself.
"Yes, I'm actually a little bit upset about it because I hear about all my friends who have parents who have saved since the time they were two," she said. "It feels like that's a parent's job. Not to pay for it all, I don't think that at all, but to think about it when you're growing up and try to set something aside."
Ashley said she wishes her parents would use their period of unemployment to spend more time with the family.
"I wish my parents would do more stuff with us now that they have time to do more stuff with us," Ashely Kaser said. "You can still hang out and be together. They don't do much of that. I know they're stressed out, which doesn't help."
As Ashley craves more time together with their close-knit family, Travis laments some of the emotional tensions. His parents admit stress is high lately. Travis said his parents' bickering now lasts longer than it used to and is more intense.
"It's about how one is supposedly lazy, the other feels like they're working their butt off, and they don't get any appreciation for it and blah, blah," Travis said.
Such disconnects between the lessons parents think they're imparting and the ones kids pick up on are not surprising, according to Catherine Solheim, a professor in the Family Social Science Department at the University of Minnesota. Solheim said giving kids consistent messages about values and behavior after job loss is extremely difficult.
"When you bring in a really stressful, anxiety-producing situation, like lack of finances, and there's worry all the time," Solheim said. "It's very easy to slip into an unconscious mode where you're not thinking all the time, 'what am I portraying?' Some of this is pretty natural developmentally, so there's some miscommunication anyway between parents and teens, but it can be exacerbated by the situation."
And, Solheim said, families are often not that in touch with their feelings. So when anger surfaces, they don't know how to express it.
Over lunch at the house of the Faalzadeh family in Woodbury, such anger doesn't show through as mom, dad and daughter chat in their native language, Farsi.
But the father, Mehran, admits he's irritable. He lost his job in January. His only child, 17-year-old Noellia, said she understands her dad's stress level, but if she ever gets laid off, she plans to react differently.
"I wouldn't be as angry as he is," Noellia said. "He gets mad like why did it happen to him and all that stuff. But I guess he just has to realize that he's not the only one."
Her dad, Mehran Faalzadeh, would like his daughter to notice a different aspect of his behavior. He believes he's teaching her how to deal with adversity.
"I think persistence and resilience is what she's seeing," Mehran said. "Persistence in the fact that I cannot give up. I sent out, I believe to date, 970 applications."
Noellia and her dad see the same lessons when it comes to the job market. Mehran lost his job as a high-level manager at General Electric in January.
Now, he's working as a part-time assistant manager at a Burger King, a job he said he's extremely grateful for. But his trajectory makes Noellia nervous.
"I look at people and see that it doesn't matter what school they've gone to, if they have a master's, they lose jobs in and out," she said.
And that's prompting her to take her mom's advice, and pursue nursing when she goes to college in a year. Previously, Noellia wanted to study cinema and become a film critic.
"But I thought nursing would guarantee me a job because it's in the medical field and people get sick every day, so it's something that's guaranteed," Noellia said.
Mehran Faalzadeh supports his daughter's change of plans, but he will be heartbroken if the main message his daughter learns from the recession is not to pursue her dreams.
"I am a little concerned still," he said. "I don't know if this is truly what she wants to do or if this is a result of the psychological impact that has befallen the family.
"So I will continue to support her. If she comes back tomorrow and says that she wants to study dance, I would support her just as well. But I'd like her to remain detached from what has happened with the family and make the decision for herself," Mehran said.
As for the Kasers in Rogers, Minnesota, their daughter Ashley is also switching her education major to medicine -- from architecture. Ashley and her parents hope she will end up with better job stability than they did.
- All Things Considered, 08/04/2009, 5:50 p.m.