Of all the things we can teach our children, I believe one of the more important life skills is money management. Many parents today are faced with the conundrum of how to teach their children about money when living in an opulent environment.

Growing up, I remember a movie that influenced my life. I was in primary school and the movie was Tootsie - the big city life of New York seemed like a dream for a country girl who grew up on a farm. Then in high school, I had another dream - to go and live in Brazil. These dreams fuelled my drive to earn money. For me, independence began with getting part-time work and earning money to do the things I wanted to. My first part-time job was at the age of 15, milking cows with my dad to help pay for my Rotary exchange to Brazil the following year. I worked hard for the trip, which was a life-changing experience. The importance and value of earning and deserving the experience made me proud - it wasn’t just handed to me, I had worked for it.

Teenagers belonging to rich families today are not afforded such experiences. Ironically, amid the wealth and convenience, the honour of earning a dollar is being sacrificed. “Normal” to them is an apparent abundance of wealth - be it fast cars, fancy shopping malls and private schools.

Of course, this is not their fault. It is simply because of the fact that their parents are earning decent wages and, perhaps, not paying taxes, so they get a taste of the good life. But what happens when our teenagers move away to go to university?

Regardless of my previous overseas travel and work experience, the move out of the family home to university was a big one. Living in the city away from my parents in a cheap-looking flat was not easy. I barely passed my subjects, worked three part-time jobs and still did not have a cent to my name.

My measly pay cheque was barely financing the glamorous, independent lifestyle I had envisioned. I would look at the other city kids, living with their parents, while their part-time wages went towards partying. Mine addressed food, bills and the bus ticket home on the weekend to see my family and enjoy a home-cooked meal. In life, belonging is key and I didn’t really feel I was earning enough money as a student to belong anywhere. But the answer was not my dad giving me more money - although I certainly did ask.

Today, kids are given mobile phones in their teens and credit cards well before they turn 20. Who pays that bill? In many cases, it’s the parents bearing the brunt of the financial burden. An alarming article in The New York Times reported that a growing number of parents were going into debt to pay for their children’s study loans. The US Treasury Department found that close to 120,000 Americans were losing a great portion of their social security grants because of rising debt in the form of student loans.

As it turns out, living in Brazil on an exchange programme taught me many life lessons. Most of all, it gave me a taste of the life experiences I was after, perhaps even living and working overseas. After a year of university life, my dreams were the same, but “not belonging” drove me into making a decision. I realised I needed to get a real job, an income, make friends and complete my degree part-time.

Fast forward 10 years, and life has changed a lot for me. I have enjoyed a career that took me first interstate in the US and then around the world; I have bought and sold my own investment properties many times, and I finally graduated after many hours of late night and weekend study. All of which I achieved without a credit card. And if I had fallen into credit card debt at a young age, very few of these dreams would have been realised.

Teaching teenagers to think for themselves and stand on their own feet will be our greatest test. My mornings spent milking cows with my dad may be your child’s blog or e-business venture. Make the time to ask your kids what their dreams are and then ask them how they plan on funding those dreams. The value of knowing you’re able to fuel and fund your own dreams is simply priceless.

The writer is a blogger, commentator on personal finance and freelance columnist. This article has been reproduced from the UAE based newspaper, The National. Blog: www.womenmoneyandstyle.com