It doesn't take a close reading of Emily Post's Etiquette handbook to know that there are three topics that should never be discussed in polite company: religion, politics, and money.

But maybe that old adage could use some rethinking, says Harvard historian Nancy Koehn, especially when it comes to inculcating smarter spending habits in children. 

"My take on this from a larger-picture perspective is there is a great power to thoughtfully entrusting information, thoughtfully, carefully, diligently...to people who depend on you, and that includes kids," Koehn said.

She points to a recent piece in the New York Times which describes a man who withdrew his entire month's salary in $1 bills from the bank, came home, dumped it on the table, and asked his children to gather around as he divvied out the household's expenses for the month: bills, taxes, church donations, ballet lessons, and everything else.

They quickly got the message: budgeting is often all about trade-offs, which helped them make concrete sense of why, for example, eating take out from restaurants more meant there was less money in the budget for family vacations to Disneyland.

"They could see there wasn't very much left and they could understand it," Koehn explained.

In this day and age, Koehn says, learning about the basics of personal finance is more important than ever.

"Think about what these kids are going to face when they older, in terms of what the economy will look like, what entitlements will look like, what college debt will look like," she said. "There is every reason in the world to begin to equip our young people with the skills they need." 

That isn't to say that children should be privy to all of their parents' financial woes, especially if it will make them fearful or stressed. But in general, Koehn says, children are a lot more capable of processing information about finances—and learning from it—than they're usually given credit (pardon the pun.)

"Children of all ages are braver and smarter and more sensitive than I think we often assume," Koehn said.

 To hear more from historian Nancy Koehn, tune in to Boston Public Radio above.