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.
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.