By Jason Alderman
For decades, millions of kids have faithfully followed the adventures of their favorite comic book superheroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men – sometimes well into adulthood. Although often considered pure escapism, comic books also can serve an educational role – whether it’s teaching the principles of science, demonstrating right vs. wrong or even helping kids learn how to read.
Personal financial management is one of those important, yet admittedly dull, subjects parents want to teach their kids, but sometimes avoid – maybe they feel they don’t know enough about it, or are afraid family financial secrets will be shared on the playground. As I learned firsthand growing up in a household where finances were never discussed, learning about money through the school of hard knocks is mighty unproductive – and expensive.
As a way to introduce children to basic money concepts in a kid-friendly format, Marvel Comics and my employer, Visa Inc., recently collaborated on a new comic book called Avengers: Saving the Day. The plot follows the world’s most popular superheroes, including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Black Widow, as they learn valuable lessons about managing personal finances while foiling an attempted bank heist by the arch villain, Mole Man.
Ideally, children develop financial skills they’ll need in adulthood while still in school – things like balancing a checkbook, filing taxes and managing credit cards. But in reality, despite the increasing number and complexity of financial decisions today’s consumers face, only a handful of states mandate financial literacy courses as a condition for graduating high school.
That’s where comic books can help. As Marvel Comics editor Bill Rosemann explained, “In an uncertain world, understanding how to save and properly budget your hard-earned money is one of the keys to personal success. The Avengers are not only the world’s greatest heroes, but they also know a thing or three about financial health. After all, Iron Man hasn’t managed his vast wealth of Stark Enterprises by accident, and as Spider-Man learns in this story, you don’t have to be a millionaire to be a saving hero.”
Avengers: Saving the Day was created by a renowned team of Marvel storytellers and is available for free, in both print and online editions, at Practical Money Skills for Life, a free personal financial management program run by Visa (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/avengers). It’s available in Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. A free teacher’s guide with lesson plans suitable for grades 2 to 7 is also available at the site.
Comic books aren’t the only kid-friendly way to teach financial literacy. Studies have shown that the key components of good video games – including immediate feedback, rewards, motivation and goal-setting – may do a better job of preparing today’s kids for the modern, high-technology, global world in which they live than the more traditional types of learning often found in the classroom. A good example is Financial Football, which combines the NFL’s structure and rules with hundreds of questions of varying difficulty designed to test students’ financial knowledge (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/football).
Bottom line: Kids learn more when their imagination is engaged, so look for well-designed educational comic books, video games and toys to supplement more traditional learning tools.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To participate in a free, online Financial Literacy and Education Summit on April 23, 2012, go to www.practicalmoneyskills.com/summit2012.