What Happened to the Work Ethic?
Both my husband and I are first born children of parents raised during the Depression – which influenced our work ethic and life view in many ways. Our parents did not have credit cards, they saved and paid for by cash when they wanted something, and paid off their mortgage. I started working full time (in addition to going to school) when I was 17. I was completely self-supporting by the age of 20. While we do have credit cards, and it is still a dream to pay off our mortgage, we do have equity and a strong work ethic – one which we wished to pass on to our sons.
I continued to work while we parented four sons, and I remember saying to my husband in dismay when the first two were in their late teens that I was really worried that they had not developed the work ethic I expected of them. It was REALLY bothering me.
Times have changed. The expectations FOR and BY our young adults have changed. Honor students in high school who are also playing sports, or participating in other extracurricular activities (all necessary to build a solid college resume) have no time for part-time jobs. Even summers are consumed (particularly for an athlete.) Mom and Dad continue to fund almost every expense much longer than what occurred when I was a teen. In this recession, the unemployment rate for teens is the highest since the Great Depression…so even if a teen is searching, jobs have been harder to come by. Our young adults are not exposed to the world of work; however, many teens are more overscheduled than we ever were. Many have no desire to work the way their parents work…after all, we haven’t made it look all that desirable. Long hours, complaints about the job – all normal, but “little ears were listening.”
So what is a parent to do? Set expectations. Identify WHAT their job is and the expectation that it is done well, to the best of their ability (student, athlete, band, music, drama, etc.). Require (as all high schools do) the minimum – and beyond – volunteer and community service engagement. Set a timeline for getting a job and WHEN certain expenses are expected to be covered by your young adult (cell phone, car insurance, gas, car maintenance). Certainly, by spring or summer of their senior year, the vast majority of students have capacity in their schedule to work. Push, but also model fit in time to play. Work hard; THEN play hard. Appropriately withdraw financial support at a pace that enables your young adult to be financially independent and successful on their own (I’m not suggesting booting them out of the cradle into the streets!). Set a budget, and perhaps a five-year projection that reflects reasonable increased earnings versus their probable expenses. Show them both reality and possibilities.
My oldest son surprised us by choosing an environment with a VERY tough commitment level – the AirForceAcademy – and is graduating this May; he has a wonderful career ahead of him that includes a first three-year assignment in Europe. Are we proud? Relieved? Happy to have him off the payroll? You betcha!
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