Here are the symptoms for the Parents of Teenagers:
Smart mouth, whiny, lethargic, stays up late, sleeps in later, sulks around the house, avoids eye contact, argumentative, drags feet when asked to help with chores no matter how menial.
Here is the disease:
They feel worthless.
And here is the antidote:
Kids are not stupid- in fact are far from it. They have heard you talk about the cost of raising children, the cost of college, the sacrifices you made raising them and have come to the conclusion that they are expensive leaches…the white elephants of this generation, a sort of necessary evil in a culture that says you’re supposed to have a mortgage, a car payment and two children.
Of course we don’t saythat. We take them to classes, soccer, ballet, summer camps, we get them trophies for the mantle in their room, we hug them at night, buy them iPods and bike helmets and tell them we love them because we do.
But at the end of the day they grow up a little, start examining the universe and figure out that something is missing..they feel worthless.
It’s kind of like this:
My family and I toured Grant’s farm in St Louis. An historic site and beer commercial all rolled into one. Yes, Grant had a farm there, and Yes! Anheiser Busch saved it! There were all kinds of animals for the kids to pet and all kinds of beer samples for me to drink. A perfect blend of zoo and bar.
Anyway, we had a chance to see the horse version of the Lucky Sperm Club: The Budweiser Clydesdales. You know when you walk into a barn and can smell absolutely no stench, something is fundamentally wrong. Here behind gilded bars and standing on 24 inches of pristine golden straw, were beautifully strong, mammoth mounds of muscle. Eighteenth century masterpieces, carefully bred to produce efficient, powerful, working machines.
Down the way, they had a display of the beer wagon these powerful beasts pull. It was hollow. All those cases of beer-empty. The whole wagon was the equivalent of an empty cardboard box, pulled by a fleet of bulldozers.
I asked a lady in the gift shop if they ever used the horses to pull stumps. She looked shocked.
Now I don’t know how much thought horses put into their lifestyle, but it made me think that maybe there’s an Amish plow horse somewhere who is a lot happier.
Which brings me to kids of today and yesterday. Many a farm kid of last generation never played soccer or went to camp, or sang the “I am Special” song. Yet they innately knew they had value because they had work to do. They figured out that without them, the calves wouldn’t be fed, the beans wouldn’t be walked and the hay wouldn’t be stacked. A city kid raised poor knew she was worth whatever money she earned to help the family. She was needed and knew it. That knowledge gave her value.
Today we show our kids they are notneeded- we will pay for and do everything- all they have to do is sit on the pedestal and pose for the pictures—and when they become teenagers, they figure it out and get tired of it.
Now don’t get me wrong, this remedy of work is universally met with howls of outrage and dismay, but it doesn’t end that way.
I have taken a tear-stained and violent fourteen-year-old out to the back yard with a push mower and a command: “I need your help- I need you to do this.” And walked away. One hour later, I can hear them singing over the sound the mower. When they’re done, they stand straighter and feel better. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child- and if you don’t have a garage to clean, or a house to paint, then find a neighbor or employer who does.
In other words: Work works.