Children of nursery school age are being targeted by a new initiative to help them learn how to deal with money – and how to avoid debt.This content was published on April 15, 2010 - 14:01
Pro Juventute, the youth support organisation running the scheme - the first of its kind in Switzerland - says that one in five young people currently has money problems.
“This national campaign is about teaching financial literacy to the smallest ones in society, meaning we start teaching kindergarten children how to handle money,” Pro Juventute’s managing director, Stephan Oetiker, told swissinfo.ch.
The organisation on Wednesday launched a special book aimed at five to eight year olds – children are normally seven when they attend school in Switzerland – called Potz Tuusig, which is an exclamation used in Swiss German.
It tells the story of a little girl going to a supermarket and learning about what she can afford through temptation by the Potz Tuusig character – a fantasy figure she meets in the toy section.
The book, offered for free and currently in German, will be published in French and Italian in the autumn. Pro Juventute hopes that nursery and school staff will integrate the book into their teaching activities. Parents can also use it at home.
This would be the first time that money and finances is taught so early, the organisation says.
Oetiker – who has tested the book on his own children - says it is important to target youngsters early on.
“In my opinion, there’s one really shocking figure in Switzerland which is that 80 per cent of adults in debt took their first steps in that direction before they were 25 years old,” he explained.
Other figures, from a Federal Justice Office study, show that one in five of 12-18 year olds have debts, and that this increases to one in three among 18-24 year olds.
It is usually around several thousand Swiss francs – although recent media reports have pointed to a case of a 22-year-old woman running up a deficit of more than half a million francs - but there is a danger that the sum increases as the person ages, Oetiker said.
Pressures on children and young people are great, Pro Juventute says. Young people spend around SFr0.5 billion ($0.47 billion) on consumer goods a year, making them an advertising target, especially for products like mobile phones. There’s also peer pressure to have the latest jeans or the newest car.
The organisation’s money-awareness initiative for the young has found broad support.
“We find it a very positive thing that children learn very early on not only how to handle money but also how to handle their own wishes,” Josianne Walpen of the Consumer Protection Association told swissinfo.ch.
The problem is that finances and consumer desires do not always match up. “It’s important that children learn early on that not everything is possible.”
Children are a sensitive group because their sense of reality and ability to handle certain issues is not yet totally developed, added Walpen.
For mobile phones in particular it is hard to get the cost side under control with services like text messaging being particularly popular among children and young people.
Marion Nolde of the advisory body, the Federal Children and Youth Commission, welcomes the fact that Pro Juventute has developed a project which can be easily used by teachers.
Money, money, money
“The commission certainly supports measures where children are taught about a reasonable approach to money as early as possible and in a way that is suitable to their age,” Nolde said.
“Dealing with material money such as pocket money and later also the whole topic around virtual money and credit (spending what one doesn’t have) is important.”
Potz Tuusig is the first stage of Pro Juventute’s campaign. The aim is in the next few years to offer a range of financial literacy products for pre-schoolers to teenagers.
The organisation is also calling on the education authorities to integrate financial awareness into the school curriculum.
However, these measures do not mean that youngsters cannot have any fun.
“Our message is not to stop consuming, our message is to learn how to handle your money,” Oetiker said.
Isobel Leybold-Johnson, swissinfo.ch
Pro Juventute is the largest children’s support organisation in Switzerland and will be 100 years old in 2012.
It offers advisory services and runs campaigns such to help in youth violence.
It helps around 300,000 young people a year.
Source: Pro Juventute
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