A cautionary tale: Why I helped my 11-year-old invest in crypto

Economy

Earlier this year, my 11-year-old son Charlie said he wanted to invest in crypto. Although I work for a superannuation fund, I knew very little about cryptocurrencies and was busy juggling work, life and three kids, so I fobbed him off. But he kept asking, insisting it was a way to get rich, and lots of famous people were doing it.

His eyes sparkled with hope. Imagine the riches! It turns out he was receiving his investment advice from online gamers and YouTubers who spruik crypto to their millions of adoring young followers.

Slowly I realised that my financial knowledge couldn’t compete with the maniacal proselytising of my son’s favourite YouTuber.Credit:Aresna Villanueva

I was impressed by his curiosity and adventurousness, but apprehensive about the connection to gambling and a ‘get-rich-quick’ mindset. I tried telling him that crypto was volatile, unproven and – despite some meteoric rises – fraught with significant losses and many people losing their money.

When I tried to point out that it wasn’t supported by a central authority, such as a government or bank, his eyes glazed over: my son just really, really wanted to invest in crypto.

Slowly I realised that my financial knowledge couldn’t compete with the maniacal proselytising of my son’s favourite YouTuber. It had always puzzled me that people put so much hope and effort into crypto investments while neglecting to actively manage and understand what is probably their most significant investment – their super.

Then I saw an opportunity for both of us – perhaps the best way to better understand crypto was to invest in it. It could empower his inquisitiveness, but perhaps provide a life lesson along the way.

So we did some (very) light research, opened an Australian-based crypto account and agreed on an investment spread. We each invested $50 in a mix of ‘safe’ cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum.

Then we watched it grow. It was a rush. Every few days we checked our online wallet, and we were making money. The YouTubers were right, we were getting rich quick.

From our small investment we only gained a few dollars a week, but it was better returns than my super fund obtained, and Charlie was pumped! He could see a Lamborghini in his future.

After a few weeks of golden dreams, things took a dark turn. Cryptocurrencies crashed, and our healthy profit became a sizeable loss, with only $20 left from our initial investment. Ethereum had lost half its value and the money that was lining our crypto wallet disappeared without warning.

The dream was over, and Charlie was initially shocked to see it fall because he didn’t expect it. All the influencers only ever talk about crypto making money. When it sunk in that the profit (and his hopes for the Lamborghini) was gone, he was relieved that he only invested a small amount.

I knew from working in the finance industry that the market was bound to fluctuate, and I wanted him to learn that lesson, so when the crash did come it was in many ways a relief.

When I asked him what he learned from setting up the account, he said not to put all your money in one investment, don’t invest in something you don’t know much about and to invest in ‘real’ things like products, real estate and companies. Not too bad for a Year 6 kid!

Many of us know that we learn better by ‘doing’ and that being told what to do rarely resonates as well as learning the lesson on your own. Thankfully, my son only invested what he felt comfortable losing. I think he learned a valuable lesson, that taking a risk can reap rewards – but not always in the way you anticipate.

  • Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.

Awenna Williams is the head of experience at Equip Super, which manages $30 billion for over 140,000 members.

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