It’s not entirely the kids’ fault. College expenses have outstripped inflation. Back in the early 1970s, a hard-working student could make enough money with a full-time job in the summer and a part-time job during the school year to pay for a substantial percentage of a year at a state college. Not so anymore. A summer of hard work often results in only enough money to buy textbooks and a couple of new pairs of jeans.

It’s not parents’ failure to save either. In the last few months, many responsible parents lost half or more of the money they invested for their child’s education. As one of my neighbors put it, “We put off doing so many things so there’d be enough money invested for our daughters’ educations. Now we don’t have enough money to do that – and we don’t have the new roof that we should have put on the house either!” She’s understandably frustrated and upset. She’s facing new unanticipated debt – both for herself and her daughters.

It’s not even the fault of the banks that offer enticing loans. 0% interest for the next 12 months! Buy now, no payments for a year! Take out this sub-prime mortgage! Yes – the offers are seductive. But we’re all grownups. We didn’t have to take them up on it.

But we are all accountable.

On the other hand, taking responsibility and learning from the situation is part of what being an adult is all about. Our children’s lack of appreciation for finances is at least partly our fault. Our society has increasingly turned to plastic instead of cash for most of our daily purchases. Our kids watch us routinely pull out a small rectangle of plastic to pay for goods and services. Credit cards separate us – and them – from the reality of what we’re spending. Our kids don’t connect how many hours of work it takes to pay for that new video game or this new dress. To them it just costs a swipe of the card.

We’ve also been generous to a fault. Raising our kids in a prosperous time meant that we often responded with “well, why not” instead of “why” when a child asked for money or wanted to pursue a new interest. Often undisciplined about keeping to a budget ourselves, many parents didn’t provide specific financial training. The result is that the kids have been so protected from financial realities that they are clueless about what supporting their lifestyle really costs. As one of my kids exclaimed after we calculated what she would need to make to support an apartment, “Oh my gosh! Raising me is your most expensive hobby – worse than sailing!” Yes, she’s funny. And yes, she finally got it.

The new college grads have to take their fair share of the responsibility as well. Yes, we could have done better at training them. But these kids aren’t stupid. They know how to add. They know that at some point childhood ends and they become grownups. Some insist on grownup rights in other areas of their lives but abdicate the financial responsibilities that go with them. In spite of being part of the decision to take out loans for school or to buy that newer car, in spite of putting their signature on the dotted line, they pushed aside the reality that loans come due and they’re the ones who will be expected to pay.