• Joey Mascio

Emotional Bank Account



I was sixteen years old. I had a “steady paycheck” from my job at Burger King and I opened my first bank account at Wells Fargo.


I felt so mature. So adult. So responsible. But I wasn’t any of those things. I was still just a kid.


I remember walking up to any cash register with my debit card and thinking, “I wonder if I have enough money in my account to buy this?” I would swipe the card and hope for the best.


The card would go through and I would think that there was money in my account.


Except there wasn’t.


Well Fargo would let you overdraw and then charge you a $35 fee.


Once they charged me the fee 4 times. I had -$140 in my account. I was furious. Confused. Indignant.


“Why would they charge me a fee when they know I don’t have the money???”


I didn’t get that it was my fault.


I was making more withdrawals than deposits.


In his revered book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen R. Covey talks about emotional bank accounts we have with the people around us.


When we have a positive interaction with them, we are making a deposit into our emotional bank account. When we have a negative interaction, we are making a withdrawal.


The concept seems simple enough to grasp.


However, sometimes we act like 16-year-old me. We make more withdrawals than deposits with someone we love and expect there to be a positive balance. We are confused as to why our relationship isn’t better with them, why they are making us pay emotional “fees” in the way of ignoring, not respecting, or fighting against us.


The emotional fees teenagers charge are extremely steep. Pay attention to your transactions with them.


A parent only talks to their teen when instructing or scolding them. That’s a withdrawal.


A parent who is stressed snaps at their teen for something little. That’s a withdrawal.

A parent doesn’t spend any time with their teen. That’s a withdrawal (both metaphorically and literally).


Your teen will hold you responsible for these negative interactions and will compound it with emotional fees of attitude, defiance, or backtalk causing more negative withdrawals and taking you further into emotional debt with them (especially when you are dealing with a Teenage Lawyer).


Of course there should be some withdrawals in your relationship. Saying no to a request you don’t feel comfortable with. A business trip makes you miss an important event. Correcting them when they take actions inconsistent with your family values.

But if your emotional bank account has a high balance, these withdrawals won’t break the bank.


How do you keep your emotional bank account with your teen high? Make more deposits than withdrawals.


It’s simple on paper but can be difficult in practice.


The 10-to-1 Rule


In education we use something called the Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS), which is a series of practices that use positive methods to encourage desired behavior.


One basic technique used in PBIS is that teachers make sure they have three positive interactions with their students for every one negative interaction. When the student or population is a tougher crowd, the ratio is increased to five positive for every one negative.


When I train teachers, I tell them to shoot for 10 to 1.


Think about it financially. If you made 10 deposits into your bank account for every 1 equal withdrawal, you would get rich quicker. It’s basic math.


How would your relationship with your teenager be if you had a thriving emotional account? There would be more trust (ah, now I get how that is a financial word!). More security. There would be more happy times. A stressed-induced moment of anger for you would be the exception, not the rule, and your teen will be more willing to forgive that negative transaction due to a solid credit history.


Positive deposits can be as simple as talking with your teen about what they like to talk about or as involved as going out to eat with just the two of you.


Here are some more examples of positive interactions you could create with your teen:


  • Complimenting their choice of clothing or hairstyle

  • Thanking them for doing their chores

  • Allowing them to do extra chores for extra allowance

  • Bringing home their favorite treat from the store

  • Cleaning their room for them

  • Making their favorite meal

  • Spending time with them doing something they like

  • Showing up to an event that’s important to them

  • Telling them you love them


Having a high balance in your emotional bank account with your teen is not the same as “going soft” with them. It will actually give you greater buying power to be stern when it’s important.


So, don’t be like 16-year-old me with your emotional bank account. If your teen is throwing emotional fees your way, it may be because you’re overdrawn.


Pay attention to your transactions. Avoid fees.

If you have any examples of positive deposits you make with your teen, please share them in the comments below!

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