Life preps for kids
I get a steady stream of emails from parents of young adults who have got themselves into trouble with a company.
The age of majority used to be 21, but that was dropped to 18 in 2007, which means our children become fully fledged adults, able to sign any legally binding contract, when they are still school-going teens.
Which is why some of them have acquired a really bad credit record by the time they turn 21.
Have a conversation
So best you have a conversation, or a series of them, ideally, about how not become locked into a contract they’ll live to regret, and how being 18 means not only able to drink and drive legally (separately, of course), but learning to engage as consumers in their own right.
Encourage them to engage with companies online about their products, complain if they are unhappy and compliment if they are impressed.
Teach them how to complain in an assertive, but non-aggressive way, sticking to the facts, writing in proper English, and being very clear about what they expect as a resolution. Resist the urge to do it for them.
They’ll most likely contract first with cellphone service providers or gyms. Warn them to be wary about direct marketing offers for both.
Telesales agents will call them on their cellphones offering phones and gadgets. There’ll be much detail about phones, but little about the two-year contract’s financial implications.
Teach them never to agree on the spot; always ask to be sent something in writing first. And tell them to always query cancellation policies: what they will have to pay if they want to cancel early.
When it comes to gyms, tell them never to sign any contracts or “papers” without showing them to you first.
Tell them to never, ever comply with a salesperson’s instruction to “just sign here”. They should always read every word of any document they intend to sign, before signing.
Tell them not to worry about seeming slow, pedantic, distrustful or uncool for wanting to read the entire document first. That makes them one of the clever ones.
And they must always insist on getting a copy of anything they put their signature on. If refused or fobbed off, they should take photos of all the paperwork.
Teach them to safeguard their personal information; not to keep passwords and pin numbers in their handbags or wallets; not to give their banking details to strangers on the phone.
If asked for their ID numbers on competition entry forms and the like, they should refuse to do so, and only give out their cell numbers when it’s absolutely essential.
Advise them to do smart things with their smartphone, that is, to use it to get evidence. Whether it’s a misleading advert, dodgy food or shocking holiday accommodation, teach them to document it by taking a photo or video with their cellphones.
They’ll find it so much easier to make a compelling case and get justice if they get into the habit of doing that.