On the face of it, the U.S. economy is in a perpetually worsening state, and on a seemingly inevitable slide towards a further period of recession. With unemployment still fixed firmly above the 8% mark and the economy's growth rate falling well below forecasted levels, the nation is facing up to its worst recovery from a recession in more than 30 years.

SEE: Tips For Recession-Proofing Your Portfolio

Such sluggish and tempered growth can be partially explained by the renewed consumer focus on savings, which has minimized consumer spending considerably. While this has obvious negative connotations within an economy, it has also had the effect of reducing the levels of public and private domestic debt for 12 consecutive financial quarters, which at least suggests that citizens are developing more cautious and considered spending behavior.

Reaching out to Teens
With reckless spending pivotal in the development of long-term consumer debt, this shift in priorities is long overdue among U.S. citizens. It can only be hoped that the current generation of adult consumers nationwide impart this ethos on their children, who are absolutely key to sustaining long-term economic growth over the next decade and beyond. Given this, and in the light of a recent financial study by ING DIRECT USA, prioritizing financial education for the nation's teenagers cannot come soon enough.
According to the research data, a quarter of U.S. teens do not understand the difference between debit and credit, with one in four respondents between the ages of 12 and 17 believing that a debit card was used to borrow money from the bank rather than make a withdrawal from their accounts. In addition to this, just 17% of teenagers surveyed suggested that they were confident and knowledgeable when it came to managing personal wealth. This lack of fiscal awareness does not bode well for the future of the U.S. economy.

SEE: How To Teach Your Child About Investing

The Role of Parents
The lack of confidence among young consumers may appear startling, but it is far more understandable when you consider that less than a third of U.S. parents consider themselves to be adequate financial role models. This self perception is destructive. By devaluing their input as educational mentors to their children they are ultimately neglecting the pivotal influence that they have on shaping behavioral trends, while also passing the responsibility on to public and private schools.

The development of children starts within the home, and their conduct as teenagers is largely influenced by the behavior of their parents or guardians. For example, while the national rate of unemployment has climbed significantly since Barack Obama's ascent to power, youth unemployment has also soared to the point where seven out of 10 U.S. teenagers do not hold a summer employment placement. While both statistics can be attributed to the general economic malaise, it is also fair to suggest that teenagers may gradually be adopting the attitudes and behavioral patterns of their parents.

Are Educational Bodies Playing Their Parts?
While the role of parents cannot be underestimated, educational institutions in the U.S. and across the globe are finally beginning to assume a greater level of responsibility for teaching financial values and awareness. As an example of this, teachers located within the greater metro WashingtonD.C. area can now apply for a grant of up to $25,000 each from the Investment Company Institute Education Foundation (ICIEF), which can be utilized to start or develop financial and investment education programs at a specific school.

With Capital One Bank also issuing grants of $5,000 each to 25 Long Island organizations with a mission to develop financial education within local communities, there is certainly room for renewed optimism with regards to the future of the U.S. economy. That said, there is still much work for independent governing bodies to do to encourage further learning. While 22 states require an economics course to be completed as part of a student's high school graduation, just 16 prioritize the testing of their subjects economic knowledge as being a compulsory curriculum item.

SEE: What Are You Teaching Your Kids About Money?

The Bottom Line
Although it would be unfair to disrespect the efforts of U.S. consumers in reducing expenditure levels and developing a viable source of financial savings, it will be their ability to teach this philosophy to their children that will ultimately create a valuable and long-lasting legacy. With this and an increasingly proactive and innovative approach to financial education being displayed by individual states and teaching bodies, there is genuine hope that consumer debt can be diminished significantly in years to come.

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