They’re smart, diverse and technology savvy, but experts warn that today’s teens are looking at a future of debt if they don’t brush up on their financial skills.

More than ever before, teenagers are being inundated with the message that happiness and independence are achievable through spending money. One example being a commercial pitching a MuchMusic MasterCard, singled out by both the Toronto Star and Credit Canada last year, in which Danny, a “recovering momma’s boy,” says he “really wasn’t in control of his life” until he discovered the pre-paid card, which is “as easy as loading it and spending it.” Kids as young as 13 can get one with their parents as account holders, and teens 16 and up can apply on their own.

While there’s no danger of accumulating debt with pre-paid cards of that kind, those in the know say it encourages a growing culture of impulsive spending and a view that debt is inevitable regardless of financial discipline. ScotiaMcLeod financial adviser Preet Banerjee says marketers are eager to build brand loyalty at an early age, and kids and teens are being kept in the dark on financial responsibility.

“Not even close,” says Banerjee when asked if teens are financially literate. “You have these shows with Hollywood teens bragging about their diamond-encrusted cellphones and $500 designer jeans. It certainly doesn’t help the situation. I’ve said this many times before: Personal finance needs to be integrated into school curriculums. ‘Spend less than you earn.’ It’s simple, and it should be drilled into kids from the time they’re able to do math. No one’s doing it. It’s not enforced.”

Debt makes a difference. In his book Credit Card Nation: The Consequences Of America’s Addiction To Credit, author Robert Manning says the amount of U.S. students entering their first year of post-secondary with credit cards tripled over a three-year period. He estimates 7 to 10 per cent of post-secondary students will drop out due to credit problems — explaining they’re too embarrassed to admit debt to parents, students work more hours than class schedules will safely allow to make up the money, resulting in poor grades.

Mackenzie Financial’s ‘Til You’re Blue In The Face: A Parent-Teen Discussion Guide To Thrift, Saving And Getting Rich says teens, though they may not be thinking about a future where they’ll have to pay their own way, are genuinely interested in personal finance and often look to parents for help. The guide says parents should take the opportunity to educate them: Showing them statements of savings plans and how they’ve accrued value, discussing mortgage payments and interest, and how it all fits into the financial plans of the family.