Is Unemployment Better for Busy Teens?

credit: Google images

credit: Google images

Some parenting standards can be planned in advance. We imagine we’ll know precisely how to respond to many parenting situations and be easily guided by our experience and values. New parents talk at length of the value of making their own baby food and limiting screen time. But then, real life happens and naïve certainty evolves into a realization that we’re often not sure what to do. This can lead to less thought through parenting decisions, like letting your toddler stand in the back of a shopping cart or allowing your teenage son to watch the Fast and Furious franchise while on the verge of getting his driver’s license.

So I’m asking you, dear blog readers, to help me think through an upcoming parental decision–whether to encourage our sooner-than-I-could-ever-have-imagined-to-be 16-year-old son to get a job. Seems easy. Right? Old enough to work means get your butt to work. I mean, hey, I got a job as soon as I turned 16. I remember how proud I was to don that polyester poop brown and orange jumper and a plastic nametag for my first gig at the Ponderosa Steak House. I had a driver’s license and my mom’s hand-me-down ‘76 Chevrolet Chevette that needed gas and insurance coverage. I had responsibilities!

And I suppose having a job during the school year was fine for me. Unless you factor in an early immersion into a grown-up world of restaurant co-workers who happened to not be all high school students like me. Some were high school dropouts. Some were struggling single parents. A few were rehabilitating criminals. But aside from this early exposure to the wider world–something I’m not sure I want for my own kids–my grades never suffered and my little blue hatchback always had a full tank of gas.

I’ll argue this wasn’t always the case when I went to college. That’s when I really needed money to pay for tuition, books and housing. But the heightened difficulty of college coursework meant that holding down even a part-time job during my college years caused my grades to suffer. Making ends meet during college is something I truly hope our kids won’t have to worry as much about.

For me, there seemed no other way. But that’s not the case for my children. Our son doesn’t need to have a job right now. The hubs and I are fortunate enough to be able to provide for his needs. And, unlike some kids with more refined tastes, our son rarely asks for extras. He seems perfectly content with bargain priced t-shirts, a few pair of no-name-brand jeans and wearing one pair of athletic shoes at a time until they’re either outgrown or worn out.

But even though he doesn’t necessarily need money, shouldn’t he get a job to learn responsibility? Start saving for college? Gain some work experience? My immediate answer to all of the above is yes. (Although please God not at a place like the Ponderosa.)

But what about his already busy schedule? My son participates in high school sports–something I never did. I’m pretty sure our son isn’t on deck for any college sports scholarships. It’s not that. He just likes to play. It’s part of his high school experience and something he most likely won’t get to be a part of once he goes to college. And these activities often mean he doesn’t return home from school until after 6 o’clock. Sometimes later. Then there’s dinner and homework for courses admittedly tougher than what I took at his age. You probably don’t need to read another blog post about how kids today are pushed too hard academically and have more homework than we did in high school. So I’ll skip that for now.

I suppose he could find a job that only requires him to work on weekends during the school year. But that would mean zero down time day in and day out and that cannot be a good recipe for a healthy mind and body. So I’m tempted to discourage any paid employment during the school year. Am I wrong? The hubs thinks so. He says kids on more competitive traveling sports teams typically have games or practices most every day including weekends. What’s the difference? He says a weekend job wouldn’t really be like “working” if it were outdoors and connected to something our son already enjoys. In the hubs’ mind, there isn’t much difference between the kid spending all day on a winter Saturday skiing for fun or getting paid to  teach kids to ski. Is he right? Do our kids have the energy and ability to endure long days every single day? Cause I don’t. Good grief, I sure don’t.

So, as much as I’ve always been a believer in young people having some skin in the game, I’m reluctant to have my boy grow up so fast. I’m thinking a summer job might be sufficient. But maybe I’m being too soft. I prefer to give this decision a bit more thought than the time I let him stand up in the back of a grocery cart. Cause you can likely imagine how well that turned out.

Standard

What Planet Do You Live On? How elitism exacerbates the achievement gap and makes you look like a jerk.

My elementary school in Flint, Mich.

My elementary school in Flint, Mich. built in 1928. Closed in 2011due to low enrollment and sold in 2015. Photo taken in 2009.

I grew up in Flint, Michigan. Maybe you’ve heard of it­–that blue collar town known for being the birthplace of General Motors, the UAW, Michael Moore and Mark Ingram. A city that once boasted one of the highest median incomes in the country, now with sad regularity, tops lists for highest unemployment and crime rates. Not surprisingly, its public education system leaves much to be desired. As much as 35% of Flint residents read at only a first grade level.

I don’t live in Flint anymore. Today, I live in an affluent suburban community with well-maintained parks and trails and regular trash pickup–something I see as a marvel when considering places like Flint that struggle to provide basic services. And the schools here! Oh my goodness, the quality of public education in my suburban land of enchantment is astounding. So much so, that sometimes when I overhear seemingly trivial things that parents in this district complain about, I think, “REALLY? You have no idea how good our children have it here compared to the state of public education in other, less fortunate communities.”

But of course parents in wealthy school districts have high standards. Why wouldn’t they? It’s most likely part of why they choose to live in areas with the “best” schools. But I wonder how much of our perception perpetuates reality.

It’s my belief that few schools are inherently better than others. Schools are made better–as defined by test scores and graduation rates–by parents who are educated, involved and typically wealthier than families whose children attend schools considered “not the best.” And when educated, involved and wealthy parents decide to move their children to schools they perceive are “better,” they take their education, involvement and disposable income with them, leaving a higher concentration of less educated, more dysfunctional and less affluent families behind.

Gradually over time, this money, stability and brain drain likely impact the quality of educators available to families less able to relocate. Because, let’s face it. It’s got to be easier for teachers to manage classrooms filled with kids whose home lives are not as negatively impacted by maladies associated with lower incomes. It takes compassion and conviction for quality educators to choose to teach in less affluent school districts. Their jobs are tougher and their burnout rates are higher most likely because they lack the advantages of teachers at richer schools.

But it is my assertion that kids of educated, involved and affluent families succeed in large part due to their privileged home lives. Successful, stable families tend to produce successful, stable offspring. Going to the “best” schools is simply icing on our fortune-filled cake. And if that’s the case, then are wealthy families partly responsible for the “underperformance” of some schools by refusing to send their children there? By chasing the perceived best, the rich get richer, a principle known as cumulative advantage.

Maybe you’re not convinced that you have any responsibility beyond providing the best opportunities for your own kids. Fine. I get it. I really do. I worry sometimes about how my children will achieve the American dream in such a competitive meritocracy. But let’s at least acknowledge our privilege and not look down our noses at schools we believe aren’t good enough for our own little darlings. For example, there are three senior high schools in the suburban school district where I live. Each one is governed by the same school board and education standards, thus presumably deliver the same quality education. But they are geographically located in three distinctly different socio-economic areas–albeit all suburban mind you. And yet, the most common perception around here is to rank these schools as bad, better and best in direct correlation with the age of the building and the number of students who receive free and reduced price lunch.

Worse is whenever I encounter a teen who laments spending even a few hours for a sporting event at the school they (and their parents) consider the “worst.” I’ve heard students say things like, “It was scary, like going to the ghetto.” What?! The school isn’t in Beirut. Hell, it’s not even in Flint! We’re still talking about a suburban high school located in a city with a crime rate well below the U.S. average. Plus kid, it’s by God’s grace, dumb luck or the adroitness of your parents and their realtor that you get to go to the shiniest schools. So let’s dispense with the elitist attitude lest you turn out like this…

Flint’s deterioration is certainly due to a confluence of many factors, chief among them, deindustrialization. But the degradation of some of its schools began long before that. It began with rich folks bent on moving their kiddos to “better” schools lest they be forced to rub shoulders with the lower classes. My mother, who still lives in Flint, once asked me if it ever feels like I’m living on another planet. The answer is, “Yes Mom. Sometimes it does.”

Standard

I Have Questions

photo from Google images

photo from Google images

It occurs to me that when you avoid a “taboo” topic of conversation and I dive face first into one, that maybe, we are trying to convey the same message–compassion.

This is a new revelation to me as I’ve been historically puzzled by those who don’t ask questions. I’ve always found it particularly odd when family members and supposedly close friends dance daintily around elephants plopped smack in the middle of the room.

Examples:

  • You meet a friend for coffee. You know she’s been struggling with something personal because she’s either previously told you or you heard about it from a mutual friend. You avoid the topic. But I say, “So I heard you’re having a rough go. Wanna talk about it?”
  • Your teenage son’s buddy comes over. You remember something about his having a girlfriend. You offer the kids pizza rolls and return to loading the dishwasher. But I say, “Still have that girlfriend? How are things going? Is she smart? Is she funny? Do her parents like you? Do your parents like her?”
  • A relative or college friend is getting married. You know her fiancé has a child from a previous relationship. You attend all the pre-wedding festivities and behave as if you’ve known the child its whole life. (Which is good btw. Always be kind to children.) But I ask the bride-to-be, “Was your fiancé married before? Does the child have a relationship with the mother? Do you? I honor your commitment to becoming a step-parent. But it must be challenging in some ways. Tell me about that.”

So, to be clear, I don’t necessarily pour out all of my questions in the sequential style of an interrogator. I understand the dance of discussion. And I’m talking about people we have relationships with. (Or maybe not. I do tend to ask strangers questions too.) But the fact is, I do ask questions. Questions other people seem too afraid or too indifferent to ask. I suppose I’m just curious about people. I don’t want to guess or assume or conjure up my own ideas about how things are going with you. I’d rather hear it from you. And how better to know what’s really going on than to ask questions?

Before you begin to think I have no boundaries, let me share a few examples of topics I’ll most likely ask you about that others might not:

  • Your relationships
  • Your work/education/career status, goals, hopes and dreams
  • Your faith/spiritual life
  • Your physical and mental health
  • Your kids (But mostly if your kids are over 5 years old and are capable of doing more interesting things than making poop in the potty. Cause, eventually we can all do that. So although you’re excited, it’s not that impressive.)

And some topics I probably won’t ask you about because I do have boundaries or they don’t really help me know you in any meaningful way or I don’t really care all that much:

  • Your finances
  • Your sex life (Gross.)
  • Your fitness routine (Gah! Shut up already. You’re fit or really want to be. Good for you.)
  • Your politics (I can already tell from talking to you.)

I ask questions because I’m interested in you. I care about you. I want to know you better. And I’ve always believed that others avoided asking questions because they’re either too bashful or too self-involved or think they already know all the answers or don’t really care all that much. But I may be wrong about the non-questioners in some instances. We just may be trying to convey the same message of sensitivity and care; you by keeping silent on some matters, me by speaking up.

I think this is most relevant when it comes to people’s personal lives. Even though the media makes huge efforts to convince us that all personal things are fit for public consumption, many still believe personal relationships and problems are off limits. Which is funny since most people have no problem dishing about the serial mating habits of some insecure and drug-addled movie star but won’t dare ask a friend if they’re lonely.

My revelation has been that some believe asking such questions is intrusive and judgmental. People say nothing not because they don’t care, but because they don’t wish to offend or open old wounds. And sometimes the silent types, the non-questioners believe I’m being needlessly nosey or rude.

But I believe we’ve misjudged each other. You’re trying to show compassion by keeping silent. I’m trying to show compassion by being inquisitive. Is one way better than the other? Should you speak up? Should I shut up?

Discuss…

Standard

How Social Media Can Be a Career Killer

social-media-exhaustionYou’ve surely heard about or most likely experienced the power of social media and its ability to lure us in with photos of an old flame’s wedding, a friend’s new baby, tips on creating a quixotic tabletop display, recipes for the latest gluten, sugar, fat, dairy, nut and taste free side dishes, as well as those hilariously quirky cat videos. But these time-sucking, productivity-killing banalities aren’t the only sinister mind traps of the 24-hour online world.

There is also a crap-ton of terrific, useful, inspirational and motivational art and information flying over those fiber optic freeways. As a writer and editor, I regularly wade through a torrent of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blog posts–mostly great stuff about what other people are doing to make the world a better and more interesting place. I want to be like them. Those people are “out there.” They’re moving and shaking and making things happen. They’re writing reams of content, noticing and photographing tiny seeds bursting forth in springtime, designing killer web pages and mixing Mad Men styled cocktails for their weekly poetry readings. It’s all so amazing and exhausting.

But here’s the thing… The thing is, we (and by “we,” I mean, “I”) too often tend to lump all that online action into one giant pile of competing ambitions and then attempt to ascent this impossible media-made mountain–or just sit immobilized along its foothills trying to discern our next best move. And then, if you’re anything like me, you eventually say, “Screw it,” and go watch The Voice while folding laundry and tweeting about whether Adam Levine’s shirt selection makes him look more or less sexy.

It’s kind of like what happens when kids go off to college and spend too much time checking the status of friends at other universities. The constant social media impression that students at other schools are having better parties, meeting more interesting people and receiving a better education experience can leave a kid feeling unsatisfied and questioning her choices.

I’m way beyond college, thank God. But I still find myself wondering if I’m in the right place. Maybe you do too. If so, let me share what a wise woman recently reminded me of. She noted that when your career and/or life is already in pretty good shape and on an acceptable trajectory, it makes little sense to burn out trying to go in a dozen different directions, especially if it prevents you from doing your best work at your current job. Stop. Self evaluate. Don’t confuse contentment with complacency.

Heck, even if your career and/or life are a hot mess, it makes little sense to attempt to plod a dozen different paths just as much as choosing no path at all.

Social media can help promote and even elevate your career. But it can also be a career stifling distraction. Focus more on being who you are and what you’re doing well right now. Concentrate less on trying to imitate or measure up to social media standards. Create more content than you consume. (This includes those crazy cat videos. I love those.)

Find your niche and plow into your future with purpose. Go ahead and leverage the inspiration and knowledge you discover online to help improve your writing, networking and creativity. But stop letting it distract or discourage you. (And by “you,” I mean “me.” But if this advice also helps you, then my work here is done. Godspeed.)

Standard