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The Value of Work (Part One)

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.

paper-route-value-of-work

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.

17 Comments

  1. Dana Byers on January 21, 2013 at 9:45 am

    This is a wonderful post, and I believe that point 3 is rather true of our culture in America these days. While it’s difficult to fight the fear that my kids will be unsafe some days, I believe the risks of sheltering them are dangerous, too.

    I grew up working in a family business starting around age 6. As much as I value education…I learned a great deal more by spending hours caring for customers, trying to get along with co-workers, and discovering that a paycheck didn’t stretch nearly as far as I thought it would.

    Thanks, Tim!

    • Tim Elmore on January 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm

      Those are great lessons to learn early, Dana. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Craig T. Owens on January 21, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Oh my, you absolutely nailed it! I’ve appreciated the work ethic I learned growing up, but I never quantified it the way you have here. I’m going to be sharing this post with as many parents as I can.

    • Tim Elmore on January 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks, Craig. Glad you found it helpful & I appreciate you sharing it!

  3. Kathy on January 21, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Thanks, Tim. I agree whole-heartedly: work is an imperative part of life. Alfred Adler fostered the idea that work is one of the three main life tasks (occupation/work, society/friendship, and love/sexuality). By working to help others, an individual feels s/he is making an important contribution and this leads to a sense of belonging. Beginning at home, with encouragement and training from their parents, children can perform age-appropriate household chores. First we contribute to our family, then our local community and then, optimally, to our society and the world at large. Our work ethic and the goals we set for ourselves are part of what defines us, what makes us who we are.

    • Tim Elmore on January 21, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      Great points, Kathy. Thanks for adding to the conversation! The earlier we start this process, the better.

  4. Cristin Patterson on January 21, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Thanks so much, as a single mom who works 2 jobs… I have had a hard time transferring my work ethic to my 3 teenage sons! They have a week to get a job, or cell phones are no longer a luxury!

    • Tim Elmore on January 21, 2013 at 9:15 pm

      That will definitely get their attention – earning “necessities” like a cell phone certainly instills the value (and rewards) of a job well done.

  5. Joseph Lalonde on January 21, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    I’m mixed on my feelings Tim. On one hand I know the value of hard work because it’s what I’ve done since I was young, probably around 12 or 13. It’s instilled a mindset of do the work and get the job done.

    On the other hand, I missed out on quite a bit of activities and passed on other events that would have been life changing. All because I believed I had to be at my job and doing the work.

    There’s a balance somewhere.

    • Tim Elmore on January 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Good point, Joe. There is definitely a balance. I’m afraid that most of our teens are closer to the extreme of not working enough rather than working too much. It is a good reminder as we try to instill this value in our kids to not swing too far the other direction.

      • Phil P on January 22, 2013 at 9:43 am

        While I agree that work is good for many reasons I agree with Joe that kids can miss out if they make work too much of a focus (they like the money and freedom too much!). Someday they may have responsibilities that require work to be a big part of their day but I don’t think that usually (exceptions abound I know) needs to happen before high scool or college ends.

  6. Dr. Leslie Galbreath on January 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly! But, I mourn the passing of the many “odd jobs” that ushered many of us into our adult work lives. Many pass over the local teenager’s lawn mowing initiative to secure professional lawn care services, vinyl siding negates the need for house painting, 24-hour digital publications lessen demand for newspaper delivery. Even the hard farm work that my siblings & I experienced has morphed as the machines get larger and herbicides more effective thereby increasing efficiencies & lessening the number of hands necessary to accomplish the work. I’m dedicated to offering the first opportunities to neighborhood teenagers, which conveys my confidence in their ability and my partnership in their development.

    • Tim Elmore on January 21, 2013 at 9:12 pm

      That’s a great practice to first offer odd jobs to local teens. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Kurt Earl on January 26, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Tim, as the creator of Compete4Christ I think that part of the problem here is that parents and coaches have allowed sports and competition to become self indulging, narcissism feeding activities. Coaches have dropped the ball. They value winning more than character development. Parents no longer teach their children to focus on the team, but complain the team isn’t providing for their child. Also, you’re not a professional paper boy so your job as a paper boy was a facsimile too, right? 😉

    • Tim Elmore on January 28, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Great point, Kurt. We are thankful to work with many athletic programs who use their programs to build great men and women. Winning is seen as a by-product, not the highest aim, of developing character, discipline, teamwork, etc. It is unfortunate that so many parents and coaches are missing this viewpoint.

      And, I can still throw papers with the best of ’em 🙂

  8. Kiki Schleiff Cherry on January 26, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Our daughter has worked as a cashier at a major retail store since the beginning of her sophomore year. It has been so good for her! She was always a shy kid, but has gained confidence, pride, management skills and organization through having a job. She has had some amazing bosses who have really mentored her, but also had to learn to manage some difficult employees (especially fellow teenagers!) She still finds time for dance, clubs at school, youth group and volunteer activities in the community. About a year into her job, she was promoted to a trainer, and now, even though she is one of the youngest employees, she’s often put in charge of her area. When she heads to college, she will have three years of work experience. The colleges she applied to really liked that. She was accepted to her first choice college within 14 hours of submitting her paperwork, even though her grades and SATs were good but not in the highest bracket.

    • Tim Elmore on January 28, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Thanks for sharing a great example of the value of work. What an incredible experience for your daughter that will shape her future for the better.

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The Value of Work (Part One)