Kids and Contracts

As the kids age and take a larger role in the world, they’re going to come across things called contracts.  And it’s crucial that you take a few moments to review the contracts with the kids so that they learn to do it in the future. 

I’m a purist by nature and professional training.  I’ve written contracts, reviewed them, altered them and signed them.  My previous career was in the insurance industry and I memorized the quote what the big print giveth, the small print taketh away.  So I read every contract that I sign and I admit to amusement when a clerk doesn’t know what to say when I alter a standard contract.  Trust me, the typical place will cave when you walk to the door with your money.

Contracts matter.  And while we don’t expect minors to understand business law, they should have a basic enough understanding to know that they have to read them.  We live in a period of economic mayhem, when thousands are losing their homes because they were locked into mortgage products that made no sense.  And some have proffered the response that they couldn’t be expected to read the documentation.  Unfortunately, that response isn’t forestalling the loss of their homes.

Eldest is working as a volunteer this summer and part of the preliminary packet was a confidentiality agreement.  I became aware of it when she asked me to sign it as the parent witness.  Before finalizing it, I asked her to explain her understanding of what it meant and was pleased that she covered the bases well.  I also impressed upon her the fact that as a minor, her screw-up wouldn’t lead to civil litigation against her, but me instead. 

Parents will have different takes on handling the situation, but here’s what I do:

  • Assure that both you and they have read the contract.
  • Ask them for their understanding of what the contract means.  Don’t assume that you’ve both understood it the same way.
  • Consider asking a "what if" situation question, or just provide some examples of a situation that might arise under the contract.
  • Not only give them a situation or two, but help them frame an appropriate response.  In our situation, don’t assume that someone has a right to know by virtue of being in the office, but refer the person to an adult employee that you know.  Then dummy up.
  • Discuss the consequences of failing to honor the contract.

And remember that when they’re with you and you are presented with a contract, you take the time necessary to read it.  They’ll learn to do that when they see you do it as well.

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