What's a responsible Fool to do when his progeny don't seem to have inherited his financially Foolish ways?

On the Credit Cards and Consumer Debt discussion board, one such Fool recounted getting a phone call from a collection agency pursuing his daughter. She had failed to pay a $160 electrical bill some years ago. For the last couple of months, he'd been getting letters and phone calls.

Then a particularly fetching voice called and tried to tug his heartstrings by noting how hard it must be for him to watch his daughter's credit get damaged. Wouldn't he want to bail her out by making some sort of verbal commitment on her behalf?

The father resisted, as did other Fools who joined the discussion to share their thoughts about children with less-than-perfect financial habits. The general consensus: "Not my problem." (One Fool's daughter finally cleaned up her act when she got a job at a collection agency!)

Helping your kids when they're deep in debt can backfire, even though it probably pains you to watch them suffering. In a few cases, a little assistance may go a long way. In many, a handout may only enable your adult children to keep making poor financial decisions.

Here are a couple of situations where parents should seriously consider whether it's a good idea to give their adult children a financial hand.

The bill collectors. If your adult child is in enough trouble that bill collectors have been calling, then giving him money probably won't solve the underlying problems that caused the debt to build in the first place. In this case, treating your child like an adult necessitates that you tell him that the debt is his responsibility to pay.

If your child's willing to listen, however, this may be one place where a little parental guidance can go a long way. If your child is just not aware of the importance of protecting his credit and being financially responsible, you can guide him to some good information. A lecture won't help. (It didn't when you wanted him to clean his room or get better grades, either!) But by being a caring listener, you might be able to help your child figure his own way out of a debt mess.

Occasional help. Very responsible adults can sometimes end up in a financial squeeze that they can't help due to a job loss, a medical problem, or some other unexpected emergency. In a perfect world, they would have a significant emergency cushion to get through these tough times. In the real world, money can run out, and adults sometimes ask their parents for help.

You'll probably know instinctively whether this cry for help is truly desperate, or the beginning of a bad pattern that will see your child calling once a month for an "emergency" handout.

If you're confident this will be a one-time request and you decide you want to offer some money, make sure you give only as much as you can afford. Do not jeopardize your own financial health to help your children. If you expect your child to pay you back, state that clearly when you lend the money. Do not create later resentments by stewing over a helping hand that you expected to be repaid but your child didn't.

Loans. If your recent college graduate really wants a brand-new car and wants you to co-sign the loan, you're probably best saying no. For responsible young adults, this reinforces the lesson that you have to build creditworthiness over time. In a short time, they'll have no problem at all getting that loan on their own.

In the case of less responsible children, co-signing a loan makes you responsible for the payments and puts your creditworthiness on the line. If you later need to apply for a loan yourself, this co-signed debt could count against you.

In any of these sticky financial situations, trying to help your adult child find a more financially responsible path might spur more arguments than constructive changes. In that case, your money may be better spent offering to send him or her to a financial consultant, whose words may sound less like parental nagging.

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Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.