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Financial abuse is alarmingly prevalent in Gen Z relationships

Thirty-one percent of Americans aged 13 to 18 say they have experienced warning signs of financial abuse in relationships, according to a new survey.

Financial abuse is alarmingly prevalent in Gen Z relationships
[Source Images: Passakorn Prothien/iStock]

A middle schooler’s boyfriend asks to borrow $35 of saved babysitting money and then never pays it back. A college freshman’s girlfriend asks him to miss his shift at the local fast-food restaurant to spend time with her. An 11th-grader’s significant other orders her to stop spending money on shoes.

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All these are examples of financial abuse, which a new study finds is prevalent among teenagers today.

Thirty-one percent of Americans ages 13 to 18 say they have experienced warning signs of financial abuse in relationships, according to a survey by Junior Achievement USA and the Allstate Foundation. That jumps to 37% specifically for feeling pressures to give money to a boyfriend or girlfriend.

“Abuse knows no age parameters,” says Kathryn Tuggle, author of How to Money and a former Fast Company writer. “Whether it’s physical, emotional, or financial abuse, it all comes back to the root of control. Controlling someone’s finances is one of mosts effective ways of keeping someone trapped and powerless in a relationship.”

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She advises teens to listen to friends or loved ones when they say they’re seeing or hearing about this kind of manipulative behavior. If teens themselves are uncomfortable about conversations they’ve had with significant others, they should follow their gut and end the relationship or at least talk to an adult about it, Tuggle suggests.

Teen financial abuse is more prevalent because a growing number of teenagers have access to their own money. Meanwhile, relationship interactions have shifted to social media and messaging platforms, according to Sourav Sengupta, assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Buffalo’s medical school. While previously a parent might have overheard a snippet of a troubling conversation between teens, back-and-forths between romantic partners are now much more likely to happen via texts.

“It’s an adolescent stage of development,” he explains. “We are really focused on finding our own space and along those lines, finding someone to see us as not just boy or girl or a member of a family. You see me as me. In that context, we’re often willing to do things we wouldn’t do for anyone. Especially in those early relationships, teens are willing to make real sacrifices.”

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They also are willing to acknowledge their lack of money acumen, to a degree. In the survey, 62% agree that they’re not ready to “manage shared financial responsibilities with a friend or romantic partner,” including 66% of girls and 59% of boys.

“These are probably your first relationships,” Tuggle says. “This is your first foray into love and attention and what it looks like to be supported by another person. . . . You don’t know what a good relationship is. Some people don’t figure that out until their 30s, 40s, 50s.”

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