Firearms before finance: The US educational system is failing teens like me

Schools are teaching Gen-Z teenagers like myself all the wrong things — and the rise of social media financial influencers is not helping the situation

OPINION
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I chatted with my classmate Avi about finance during the free work time we had in our outdoor education class, where we are told to memorize different parts of a rifle and other firearms. 

Because rather than learning how to prepare for my future financially, my experience at school ironically teaches me more about shooting a gun. 

In today’s educational landscape, it’s social media — not school — that serves as an unsteady bridge to the financial literacy gap among young people. 

Because of this educational system where 74% of students do not feel confident about their financial education, teenagers my age have turned to social media to learn how to invest. 

My school offers a variety of courses across a span of subjects, but some of what we are learning is not useful to our growth as well-informed humans in society. 

High schools should prioritize financial education to ensure that my generation will know how to make responsible decisions with money, not just how to successfully name different parts of a rifle. 

Where social media succeeds and schools fail

It’s now 10:00 am, and the second bell rings through the walls of my high school as I walk to class. All around me, students have their phones in their hands, checking investing apps such as Webull or E-Trade.

Avi tells me he saw a bunch of people “get rich quick” on Reddit — and then he started investing himself. Another one of my classmates (who has been investing since he was just 14) said he knows how often young people get hooked and buy “scam” investing courses after seeing the grand lifestyles of “fin-fluencers” on TikTok.

The distortion of social media algorithms, infiltrated with visions of luxury lifestyles and alluring money schemes, is what entices teenagers my age to invest in stocks and crypto at such an early age. 

Because beyond these dangerous notions of “getting rich quick,” social media platforms today do offer something that real schools, such as my own, do not. 

While social media may offer some insight into personal finance and investing suggestions, it is simply not sufficient or reliable enough to equip us with all of the knowledge we need to make good financial decisions: Social media falls short of providing us with the knowledge we need to navigate the real world. 

So much of what we are being taught in schools today must be modified to become more useful and more accessible for growing generations. 

I myself have found an array of fin-fluencer content while perusing through my daily TikTok “For You” page — cultivated by an algorithm that knows what content I’d want to consume better than I know myself. Through these digital behaviors, I am exposed to a variety of ideas and financial information I wouldn’t have known otherwise — because of the absence of financial education at school.

With almost 60% of American teenagers visiting TikTok daily, fin-fluencers reach a fresh audience of users, revealing an otherwise unknown world of finance and investment to students who don’t have direct access to that information.

Viral fin-fluencers on TikTok gross millions of views by explaining investment in short TikTok-length videos. But oftentimes, internet advice can portray things through a rose-tinted lens, showing novice viewers unrealistic paths to wealth.

Through the illuminating pixels making up my TikTok algorithm, investing seems like it is stable and always rewarding — they make this easy to believe, especially for viewers my age with limited background in financial jargon. 

According to a 2022 survey, 34% of Gen Z users obtain financial advice from TikTok and 33% from YouTube. While fin-fluencer content sheds light on the bright side of investing and wealth expansion, it fails to warn teenagers of the damaging risks behind some financial decisions.

And while not all fin-fluencers promote unrealistic notions of abundance — and social media can be helpful in gaining exposure to the world of finance — it should not be the only option for financial education for teens.

Every day I learn something new off of social media, but I do not want this to be the cradle of my financial knowledge. 

Education has so much of an impact on the lives of students like myself. 

I want a future where the public school system accepts that every student has a right to learn how to make responsible financial decisions, so my peers don’t have to turn to TikTok to learn it the hard way. 



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