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.

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Get Better, Quit or Reprioritize

The "Radiant Orchids"Sports and other extracurricular activities are a common conversation topic among parents of school age children. Inevitably, these discussions pivot toward our anxieties about performance, achievement and advancement. We furrow our brows and agonize over how best to help little Johnny or Maddie be “winners” in all of their endeavors. Someone once cut to the chase during one of these discussions with a simple summation of reality–a mantra that most likely applies to people of all ages who participate in most all activities–“Everyone eventually gets sick of losing, and when they do, they’ll either improve or quit.”

If this is true, and I believe it is, maybe we need only encourage our kids, our friends and ourselves to try new things, and then stand back and see what happens. Success feels good and is its own natural motivator. We need not push those experiencing success but instead provide support and direction.

Failure, on the other hand, doesn’t feel good and we may be tempted to either shelter our kids (and ourselves) from all failure or unreasonably push for achievement so as to minimize exposure to failure. But remember, “Everyone eventually gets sick of losing, and when they do, they’ll either improve [which requires a combination of talent, practice and determination] or they’ll quit.”

I’m not saying it’s always okay to quit difficult activities out of frustration. No one need give up easily on things we’re not necessarily good at. But we need to have perspective on what it takes to become good at various things and be an encourager through the challenges associated with reaching higher levels of achievement. People will sometimes still choose the exit. And in most instances–yes, I’m going to say it–quitting or at least dialing back the intensity is okay. Try a different activity. Move on. 

Or we could also choose to emphasis something other than winning. For example, I took up tennis a few years ago. I stunk up the court with no natural talent or knowledge of the game. So I took lessons and carved out time to practice until last year I became courageous enough to join a league.

I lost.

A lot.

I was tempted to bail on competitive tennis this year. Instead, I shifted gears. I joined a doubles team instead of singles team. Wins came more frequently for a variety of reasons: experience, coaching, having a partner and competing at a slightly lower level than the previous season.

Our team, the Radiant Orchids, (because we look amazing in our orchid colored gear) recently came within a few sets of winning a championship match. But we lost and that stinks, but only a little. Because afterward, our team captain reminded us of why we play, “We play to be social, to get exercise, to have fun, to improve our skills and to win.”

Yes, losing still stinks and we DO play to win. But winning is last on the list of reasons we participate and we rock at the more important things. I am blessed to have been a part of a group of amazing, fun, competitive and inspiring women. I almost quit playing competitive tennis because I was sick of losing. But with encouragement, practice and time, I’ve improved… at more than just a game.

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Can Football be Saved… Again?

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I love Thanksgiving. Comfort food and gratitude are a great combination. I also enjoy football and prefer watching a big game instead of washing dishes after the big meal. And if you have children, watching football with them can provide some important teachable moments, especially lately.

I am not an athlete and don’t pretend to understand every rule of any sport. But I can appreciate superior athletic performance, fierce competition and the joy of winning a hard fought battle. But sports battles should remain on the field and should be clean competitions with competitors and teammates who show respect for one another. Or at the very least, don’t abuse one another on or off the field.

And as fans, we should have enough respect for the players who provide for our entertainment, to not wish them harmed.

I cringe whenever athletes are injured and remain anxious until they are on their feet again. I explain to my sons the potential severity of some injuries. How careers can be ended and daily lives complicated. And when the shenanigans of a certain NFL locker room came to light, I reiterated to my sons that love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are a priority everywhere, even in, especially in, the locker room.

Same goes for all sports. We once took our boys to an NHL hockey game. We live in Minnesota. So it seemed like the thing to do. It was fine at first. A family-friendly crowd enthralled by an impressive display of speedy, stick-wielding talent.

But then a fight broke out on the ice. The crowd leapt to its feet, fists pumping the air in unison with their chants of “fight, fight, fight.” Little tikes, as young as three years old, emulated the bloodlust behavior of their dear old dads. My stomach turned.

I’m not delusional in desiring a risk-free life. We encourage our sons to play sports and understand that getting hurt is part of being alive. But I do not accept disabling injuries or unnecessary brutality as ‘just part of the game.’

In a speech delivered by Jon J. Miller, author of The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football, Miller quotes an 1895 letter from Roosevelt saying, “Rough play, if confined within manly and honorable limits, is an advantage…no fellow is worth his salt if he minds an occasional bruise or cut.”

Fair enough. But encouraging players to fight, deliberately targeting opponents for injury or brutalizing the minds of teammates with despicable locker room hazing is not honorable. These behaviors detract from all that is great about sports such as character building, physical fitness, teamwork and overcoming adversity.

If we try to remember this whenever we watch, participate in or coach youth sports. Maybe then, football can be saved.

My Thanksgiving Day Picks: The Lions over the Packers, Raiders over the Cowboys and Ravens over the Steelers. And if you can’t be a good sport, you should be banished to the kitchen to wash the Thanksgiving Day dishes.

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