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As Americans, we usually pride ourselves in being the best. We love being number one in the world—in the Olympics, in economics, in entertainment…you name it.

America is Number One Again…Unfortunately

According to Relevant magazine, the National Academy of Sciences has confirmed what America has long known to be true: America is indeed number one. Does it even matter in which category America is number one? It’s so obvious that it’s almost redundant to say it, but, in the interest of journalistic integrity, we’d best examine the details. When put up against Canada, Australia, Japan, Britain, France, Portugal, Italy and Germany and eight other developed nations, America came in first for all kinds of stuff:

  • Infant mortality
  • Injury and homicide rates
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • AIDS
  • Drug abuse
  • Obesity and diabetes
  • Heart disease, lung disease, and disabilities

And, obviously, America shows no signs of slowing down. “It’s a tragedy,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, who chaired the panel. “Our report found that an equally large, if not larger, disadvantage exists among younger Americans.” And that doesn’t even touch on violence, in which “Americans are seven times more likely to be murdered than people in the other countries, and 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun.”

According to a report by Wealthson, the U.S. also leads in unemployment when compared to ten top industrialized nations between 2009-2010. And youth unemployment is higher than any other demographic in the U.S.

So, here’s my question:

Is there any connection between being number one in categories like teen pregnancy, drug abuse, obesity and homicide rates and the fact that young adults are not working? 

I think there is. When you study unemployment rates for young people and compare them to rates in these categories as well—you see a parallel.  When youth are working they are generally engaged in something meaningful and don’t have time for these anti-social endeavors.  I recognize this may seem overly simplistic, but it’s true. Work is not only about a paycheck, it’s about the development of a person, about the expression of one’s gifts, about contributing something valuable back to society. I know this sounds old-fashioned—but work is supposed to give meaning to our day-to-day lives. I am not saying it’s where we derive our identity, but it IS a place to express our identity.

I say let’s work to get young people back to work. Let’s get them ready for the workforce by equipping them with life skills. And, let’s tell them the truth about the importance of moving from a “consumer” to a “contributor” in this world.

I think they may just surprise us with what they can do, when they don’t have time to do the things they shouldn’t do.

What do you think? Are these trends related? Leave a comment below.

For two days, I have blogged about the value of work—what it does for us and in us when we get the opportunity to apply our talent and effort to something we believe in. It does something good to us that nothing else can accomplish. Unemployment is one of the cruelest experiences a human can endure as it relates to their self-esteem.

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But there’s another angle to this issue—the consequence of not working.

Consider the person we become when we refuse to work. Entitled. Critical. Lazy. People are at their best when they must reach inside and pull out the very best that lies within. Author Dan Pink reveals that we perform best when we experience:

1. Autonomy – I can self-regulate. I am resourceful and can do it on my own.

2. Mastery – I hone my gifts and improve to the point that I excel in an area.

3. Purpose – I work toward a cause that I believe is very important.

Obviously, there are some who cannot work. For them, I believe those of us who can, must reach out and help them in compassion. But for many others, we do them a disservice by not asking them to do their part. Only then can they avoid becoming less than the person they’re capable of becoming—especially a young person.

Below is a strong and pointed article. It was written by Alfred W. Evans from Gatesville, TX who’s concerned about this next generation. He’s worried about the future and the system he’s living in, where work is—well—unnecessary. He’s obviously writing out of emotion after seeing so many able-bodied people not working but enjoying a life of luxury far beyond his own. The solutions are just common sense in his opinion. His words were printed in the Waco Tribune Herald, Nov 18, 2010. The title:

PUT ME IN CHARGE

Put me in charge of food stamps. I’d get rid of Lone Star cards; no cash for
 Ding Dongs or Ho Ho’s, just money for 50-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese and all the powdered milk you can haul away. If you want steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.

Put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I’d do is to get women Norplant birth control implants or tubal ligations. Then, we’ll test recipients for drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. If you want to reproduce or use drugs, alcohol, or smoke, then get a job.

Put me in charge of government housing. Ever live in a military barracks? You will maintain our property in a clean and good state of repair. Your home will be subject to inspections anytime and possessions will be inventoried. If you want a plasma TV or Xbox 360, then get a job and your own place.

In addition, you will either present a check stub from a job each week or you will report to a “government” job. It may be cleaning the roadways of trash, painting and repairing public housing, whatever we find for you. We will sell your 22-inch rims and low profile tires and your blasting stereo and speakers and put that money toward the “common good.”

Before you write that I’ve violated someone’s rights, realize that all of the above is voluntary. If you want our money, accept our rules. Before you say that this would be “demeaning” and ruin their “self esteem,” consider that it wasn’t that long ago that taking someone else’s money for doing absolutely nothing was demeaning and lowered self esteem.

 If we are expected to pay for other people’s mistakes we should at least attempt to make them learn from their bad choices. The current system rewards them for continuing to make bad choices.

AND, while you are on government subsistence, you no longer can vote. Yes, that is correct. For you to vote would be a conflict of interest. You will voluntarily remove yourself from voting while you are receiving a government  welfare check. If you want to vote, then get a job.

You and I might have said this with more empathy, but he has a point, at least for some cases. Our current system doesn’t push people to be their best—so they aren’t. Anyone want to debate this?

Yesterday, I suggested that work is about more than money. It’s about meaning. And when we don’t equip and encourage our young people to “work” we do them a disservice. We clip their wings. They become disabled when it comes to living a healthy life. They’re unable to be productive adults.

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The largest unemployed demographic in the US continues to be young adults, 16-29. The reason is not merely a bad economy, although that hasn’t helped. For many, jobs are readily available. Sadly, the jobs that are available are “too low” for teens to take; they’d rather pass them off to immigrants. (In recent focus groups, adolescents told me that yard work or working in a fast food restaurant is “below” them).

Let me suggest some fundamental benefits that work offers us, as people. When we labor at something meaningful—offering goods or services to our community—we engage in an activity that benefits us far more deeply than financial. Consider this:

1. Good work helps us identify our gifts.

When we get a job, we can experiment with tasks that can confirm where our greatest gifts and talents lie. The closer we get to serving in our “sweet spot” the deeper our sense of satisfaction.

2. Good work helps us develop discipline.

When we work on a job, our motivation may only be the paycheck that’s coming on Friday, but along the way, we deepen our disciplines; we hone our ability to delay gratification and get beyond doing only what “feels good.”

3. Good work raises our self-esteem.

I believe working a job typically ends up cultivating our self-image. We gain a deeper sense of pride about ourselves; a greater sense of dignity; we want to live by a higher standard. One proverb says: He that hates discipline despises himself.

4. Good work provides big picture vision.

When we work, we tend to gain perspective. We can see passed ourselves; we are humbled by it. Activities we assumed were easy are now clearly not that easy. We appreciate money and what it buys because we know the hours it took to earn it.

5. Good works furnishes fulfillment.

Finally, when we work at something we believe in, the reward can be internal. More than a salary, we gain in inward sense of gratification. We’ve added value; we can step back and look with satisfaction what we’ve accomplished. This is a divine gift.

If you know a young person who “just isn’t into working”, may I suggest you talk over these five benefits with them?  Perhaps they’ve never seen an adult actually work at a job they love. Or, they’ve never seen a job they felt actually mattered. You and I know differently.  Let’s get our young people working again. Let’s model for them what it looks like to enjoy work while laboring at something that counts.

Let me hear from you. What are some other benefits of good work? Leave a comment below.

I have believed for years that a missing piece in helping students mature is work. Or, should I say, the lack of it. When I was a kid, I got my first job at 12, tossing newspapers on driveways for less than minimum wage. Yep, I did it before school so it was dark and it often rained as I rode with my bike full of papers each day. Later, at sixteen, I got my first “real” job working at a fast-food restaurant. Before I had a car, I rode my bike four miles to work, then four miles back after my shift. In college, I worked three jobs, while carrying a full-load of classes. At the time, I did it because I needed the money. I had no idea what it was doing for my character, my work ethic and for cultivating an appreciation for the everyday blessings and benefits I enjoyed. Like vegetables, it was good for me.

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Today—the average teen in America is not employed. They don’t have to be. For some reason, mom and dad have decided it’s better for them to play a sport, or dance, or do ballet, or sing. I appreciate all those things—but they are all virtual experiences. Unless the kid becomes a professional at those activities, they are facsimiles of real life. And while a student can learn discipline from them, they are not an experience of trading value for value, like work is.

Why have we exchanged work for other after-school activities?

1. Mom and dad have the funds and believe that to be good parents, we owe it to our kids to give them spending money for almost everything. Six years ago, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the average teen has $87 a week to spend.

2. Society feels that working forces a child to grow up too quickly. We see kids being pushed into a regimen of more school hours, homework, testing and performances,  and we fear they have to grow up too fast. So, not working is one way to stay a kid.

3. When our kids play a sport or a piano—they stay under our general supervision. At work, they do not. We are safety-obsessed in America and we feel work may not be safe. And quite frankly, we like to be in control. We can be control freaks.

4. Work is generally perceived as boring—and “boring” is almost a cuss word. If you asked the average teen what they hate most, being bored would likely make their top five list. Other activities, while not as productive, keep our kids entertained.

May I toss a thought into the ring? Work shapes us. It is innately good for human beings to experience. This is why so many unemployed people or citizens on welfare find it difficult to become the best version of themselves. Work enables us to express ourselves in exchange for money; to identify and groom our talents and to cultivate healthy self-esteem because we are adding value to others. From a purely spiritual standpoint, it is a divine gift. Work can be an act of worship to our Creator.

To be honest, it’s no wonder our kids are finding it hard to grow up; it’s no wonder the average teen delays acquiring their driver’s license one full year; it’s no wonder they feel entitled to things they have not earned. They often don’t even do chores around the house. An adult does. And often, it’s an adult who understands the value of work.

Don’t you think perhaps we’ve done our kids a disservice? Leave a comment below.

I remember my college art professor asked our class which one of us thought we could create the best abstract from the assignment he’d taught that week. Whoever did would get extra-credit. All of us had egos. Every one of us believed we were good artists—but none of us raised our hand for this project. We were too modest.

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A friend just reminded me of a statistic about freshman students today.

The American Freshman Survey is given every year to first year students. Question 41 asks them to compare themselves against “the average person your age,” rating their strengths and weaknesses on a list of nineteen characteristics.

According to journalist Michael Overall, when the annual survey was launched in 1966, most college freshmen had a pretty high opinion of the average person. Or, they just had a realistic opinion of themselves. Between 60-70% marked themselves “average” or “below average” in most categories.

Since then, over 15 million students have taken the survey, designed to give colleges a demographic picture of their incoming class. Evidently, the average person “just ain’t what he used to be.” Three out of four freshmen now consider themselves “driven to succeed” more than most people. Two thirds think they have more leadership ability. Three of five actually describe themselves as more intellectual.

“It’s like everybody grew up at Lake Wobegon,” Overall writes. We want our kids to have healthy doses of self-esteem, but even water can kill you if you drink too much.

Twenty-five years ago, half of all students spent at least six hours a week studying for class. Today, barely one out of three put that much effort into it. Ironic for a group that considers themselves so “driven.”

Self-confidence is knowing you can succeed if you work hard enough.

Arrogance is thinking it will be easy.

What do you think we can do to teach students the difference between arrogance and self confidence? Click here to leave a comment.