What You and I Can Do to End the Financial Checkmate That Engulfs So Many of Our Teens

Among the many hundreds of popular board games, I favor the game of chess the most. In chess, two opponents begin with an equal number of game pieces and a million-and-one choices of how to manipulate them to their advantage.

No dice or luck-of-the-draw influences the outcome.  The game pits brainpower against brainpower, skill against skill, and experience versus experience.

Snapshot: Daniel, 18, began looking for summer employment last May in his hometown of Woodbury, MN.  He applied for six different positions with no luck.  "I wanted a job to get an income for myself to hang out with my friends and get used to the demands of working," he told his hometown newspaper.

At the end of 2010, the unemployment rate for Minnesotans aged 16 to 19 topped 21%.

Snapshot:  Laura, 19, is an A-student in French, English literature, classical civilization and geography.  She still lives in her parents' gated countryside home and has access to extensive grounds and a tennis court.

She is currently free on bail.

Snapshot:  Mark, 19, was brought up in Dobbs Ferry, New York, where he attended Ardsley High School.  From a young age, Mark had a knack for writing his own computer software.  One of his early successes was a program that used artificial intelligence to determine a user's listening habits.

Both Microsoft and AOL offered to acquire Mark's software, which he developed under the corporate name, Intelligent Media Group.

Three flesh-and-blood teenagers.  Three teens who began with a fresh, chess-like opportunity to become winners or losers.  Three teens who are each unique -- yet also part of a demographic group that is facing enormous challenges due to unemployment and the resulting disillusionment.

According to the Labor Department, nationwide teen unemployment is now at 25%.  In Washington D.C., almost half of adolescents between 16 and 19 can't find work.  In California and Georgia, the teen unemployment rate is 34.6%.  The rates among minority youth are shockingly higher still.

Needless to say, the lessons and job-related experiences our children acquire in their teen years will impact -- for better or worse -- their productivity and self-image for a lifetime.  So addressing the financial and job literacy of America's adolescents is all of our responsibilities -- whether we have children in that age range or not.

I'm a Big Believer in the Power of One Individual to Make a Difference

I can't control what our political leaders do on the national level and I have only a limited say over what transpires in my local community -- at the city council and school board level.

But what both you and I can do is greatly influence the teens in our homes, extended families, churches, temples and neighborhoods.

Here are three of my suggestions:

1.  Teach the value of persistence

We need to impart to every teen within earshot some basic personality skills and traits that will serve them in the current tight job market and life beyond.  Chief among these is persistence.  Daniel in Minnesota knocked on six different doors before he stopped looking for a paying job.  That's not enough.  Who knows if the 7th, 8th or even 18th door would have been the one that opened to him?

2.  Teach that the best strategy for success in life is to spurn all thoughts of entitlement and earn everything, every day

We need to help our young people understand that they are not simply entitled to life's many rewards.  They can and must earn the lifestyle they desire.  That might mean working first for free as an apprentice/intern, or it might mean having to hit the library to polish their communications and job search skills.

The three key messages:  Take your fate into your own hands.  Do whatever it takes to succeed.  Believe in yourself!

Perhaps if Laura's parents hadn't given her every privilege with no expectations in turn, the British teen would not have been arrested during the recent deadly London riots -- fueled primarily by disaffected teens -- and wouldn't have tried to loot $8,800 worth of cigarettes, booze and electrical goods.

3.  Teach the value of being an entrepreneur

Show our teens, whether they live in Washington D.C. or Brentwood, California, the ways and benefits of good old American entrepreneurship.  Among the 49% unemployed youth in our nation's capital, a large number are more than capable of starting and running their own businesses -- perhaps even partnering with other nearby teens.  But someone has to provide them that hope -- and show them where and how to get started.

Could we be overlooking the founders of future successful enterprises - such as Mark and his Intelligent Media Group, among our inner-city unemployed youth?  Yes, indeed.

Mark Zuckerberg had plenty of advantages that these kids lack when he launched Intelligent Media Group, his first company.  But the greatest advantage the Facebook founder brought to bear was his unflappable belief in himself and his passion for learning and growth.  And those two character traits are absolutely free and available to anyone who chooses to adopt them.

As George Bernard Shaw noted...

"People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are.  I don't believe in circumstances.  The people who get on in this world are those who get up and look for the circumstances they want -- and if they can't find them, they make them."

I anticipate some people reading this column will accuse me of being naïve and even clueless about the forces at play that doom our youth to unemployment, poverty and hopelessness.

I'm far from unschooled about these enormous forces.  But I'm also not resigned to submit to them.

In the game of life, as in the game of chess, savvy and determined players can rebound from enormous deficits if they have the will -- and if they have nearby coaches who'll show them the ropes and help them develop self-confidence.

If all we do is point to the teen unemployment problem and fret over it, we're surrendering the game prematurely and setting a poor example for our kids.

I recommend we fight on.  It's your move.

Stock Market Experiences Record Swings -- Here's How to Protect Yourself...

Update:  My last column, Flight To Safety: What To Do With Your (Remaining) Money After Stock Market Delivers A Drubbing, generated a significant number of comments and questions.

To help address them, I conducted a free teleconference last Friday, August 12, that attracted more than 900 registrants.  You can now listen to a replay of my 28-minute briefing (or download it as an MP3).

Critical questions I addressed include:

  • Should you stay in the market despite the turbulence and wait for the market to rebound?
  • Is now the time to shift into gold?
  • Where else can you find shelter from the storm?
  • What can we do to encourage Washington to get its act together?

Huffington Post readers who would like to receive advance notice of my future timely briefings and alerts can receive both for free by registering at the Bank On Yourself website

New York Times bestselling author Pamela Yellen is the founder of www.BankOnYourselfNation.com, a website dedicated to helping people achieve lifetime financial security and self-reliance.  As president of www.BankOnYourself.com, she's helped hundreds of thousands grow their wealth safely and predictably.