Many high school students don't hear a peep about personal finances within their school walls, but the juniors and seniors at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., got the chance to hear from one of the most powerful economists on the planet, Fed Chief Ben Bernanke.

The guest lecturer almost sounded a little nostalgic, remarking that "much more financial sophistication is required today than when I attended high school."

He might be a little surprised at just how much. Bernanke told the students that they may not be thinking about finances now, but they will some day be responsible for a family budget, a new car, or a home. That means they'll have to learn about budgeting, banking, saving, investment, and credit cards, he said.

With all due respect to the venerable chairman, I might suggest that students don't need to know those things someday -- they need to know them now.

It's a hard-knock life
Many teen shoppers already use credit cards, some in their own name and some in their parents'. Credit card issuers have been quite clever in their credit and debt card offerings for teens, some containing educational components that also allow parents to impose spending limits. Just to name a few, both Visa and MasterCard (NYSE:MA) offer prepaid cards that must be loaded with cash before they can be used.

Teens with part-time jobs probably already have checking accounts and debit cards to go with them. Some may be helping contribute to their own college savings. Others may be missing an early financial lesson if they're working and don't have some kind of long-term savings accounts.

The moment teens leave the nest, they'll start getting blanketed by credit card applications. They should know what they're facing before they start sending away for those pieces of plastic. Credit card debt has become a growing part of student debt, and it can make it hard for young people to get on their feet when they get their first jobs. They're in much better shape if they understand credit before the card arrives in the mail, rather than having to learn their credit lessons the hard way.

Teens heading off on their own, like the juniors and seniors who listened to Bernanke's talk, also need to have a basic grasp of budgeting. Whether they're trekking to college or setting out for a first job, moving away from home means managing at least some of their own expenses, maybe for the first time.

Required classes for Foolish teens
If you're a clueless teen (or you've got one at home), there's plenty of opportunity to learn the basics of budgeting, credit, and investing before you're forced to fly on your own for the first time. Poke around in the Teens & Their Money section of the website, and you'll find basic lessons about money and investing that may inspire any teenage mall shopper to save like a budding millionaire. Maybe they'll be interested in learning whether they'd rather invest their money in Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) and bebe Stores (NASDAQ:BEBE), instead of just being a paying customer. If they're not fashion icons, they may be interested in other stocks for teens.

No teen should leave home without a lesson or two in credit. An early understanding of the credit industry, started before accumulating any blemishes on those tell-tale reports, can put a teenager on a lifelong road of top-of-the-class credit ratings. You can learn more about the credit challenges teens face in the Family section of our personal finance newsletter service, Motley Fool Green Light.

Entice your teen to study up a little bit with the opportunity to win $1,000, and check out these other ideas for turning your teen into a savvy consumer, and maybe even the next Fed chairman:

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple does not own stock in any company mentioned in this article. She welcomes your feedback. MasterCard is an Inside Value selection, and bebe is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.