During my short lifetime, I have watched many changes take place regarding the work ethic for American children. As a small child growing up in the 1950's, I used to hear stories from my family and relatives about the Depression Years and how tough it was to find a job and just survive in America. During the Depressions Years, American families, especially first and second generation immigrant families were much larger back in those days and it wasn't unusual to have four to seven children in a family. Sending your kids off to college was a privilege only for wealthier families, since the children of most immigrant families were lucky if they graduated from grade school or middle school at best. It was common for kids to begin working part-time at some trade or side job very early in life and begin their full time jobs at thirteen or fourteen years old. However, this generation that grew up during these "tough times" received the recognition they rightly deserve titled "THE GREATEST GENERATION." They worked hard, sacrificed, saved and were indeed the building blocks for today's prosperity.
Even though I did not endure the pains of the Depression Years, my interpretation of the word "work" meant "independence and responsibility." Unlike my Mother and her sisters who turned over their paychecks to their father until they married, given only spending money for essentials, I was able to keep the money I earned at the many jobs I had as a child. Earning my own money taught me values that you can't learn in any classroom. I learned how to save and budget the money I earned and developed a high self-esteem from my work ethic. I was proud of many part-time and summer jobs that I held and went the extra mile to make my parents and employers proud of my work. These experiences were priceless, and set the stage for my work ethic as an adult.
Some of my part-time after school and summer jobs were babysitting an infant; busing tables in a restaurant; working in several offices as a clerk; working in a chicken packing plant; and working as a cashier in a supermarket chain, among others. Each experience taught me something about life. I learned how to be on-time; learn new skills: dress appropriately; follow instructions from my employers; interact with other employees and customers; complete tasks on time; seek advice; and a myriad of subtle lessons that helped me later in life. Again, these lessons can only be learned in real life job situations and not in a classroom.
At first glance, it may seem like my parents were cruel for letting me work at part-time jobs beginning at age seven. However times were much safer and different then than now and I was not an exception to the rule. Many of my friends had jobs as well; yet we still fit in doing all the stuff kids do, growing up in a big city. I was active in sports and held positions in student government and had time to study and get good grades. What I didn't do a lot of, that kids do today is watch TV or movies on DVD for hours or constantly look for ways to entertain themselves with expensive video games; listen to personal music libraries the size of Time-Warner's; or sit on the phone for hours. In my opinion, by not working part-time until they graduate from college, children are missing out on life's lessons that are far more valuable to their well being than one can imagine.
There's a great feeling when you buy something with money that you have earned. It has more value than if you get it for free. Now I realize that today as a parent, you will feel like a fish out of water if you push your kids to work at part-time jobs. It's more popular and easier I might add, to just give them what they want in an effort to "make them happy," instead of letting them earn their own money outside the home. The unfortunate consequence of this philosophy is that parents set themselves up to pay a dear price, whenever they decide to stop giving their children everything they want. Many relationships get quite strained and often cease to exist.
Thus a happy medium should be attempted. Forget about the days of beginning part-time jobs at seven years old and working after school and every summer. How about encouraging them to obtain one or two part-jobs before they graduate high school, in order to learn some work skills? I know many business-people who would love to have competent part-time help. How much they earn is irrelevant compared to what they can learn in developing a healthy work ethic. I think we are selling our kids short, if we don't encourage them to work part-time and become responsible at an early age. Unfortunately as adults, our lives don't revolve around constantly entertaining ourselves. At some point every responsible adult has to hunker down and support themselves and eventually their own families.
A good work ethic, established early can propel one's career to the top in their field. It doesn't matter if you are a brick layer, an accountant or doctor, performing your work with pride and discipline counts! Let's not leave the work ethic out of the developmental process for our kids today. Encourage them to become responsible early and it will pay off for them tenfold later in life.