In order to have work ethic, your kids must work

If you’ve ever wondered what teachers think of your kids, I’m about to share. It’s not juicy, but it’s important. After spending some time with your kids, I can pretty easily identify who has held a job and who hasn’t. This is important, because kids who have collected hard-earned paychecks are quite different from kids who have collected only allowances.

The first indicator is the amount of work ethic a student has. If I have a student who lays back, passively learns, accepts zeroes, and is disorganized, I pretty much know that he or she hasn’t experienced employment. I’m not talking about during the school year. I’m talking about kids who have never held a summer or part-time job. These kids are recognizable enough that I generally recommend that teens work outside of school and outside of the home, that they have a boss they must answer to, a schedule they must keep, and responsibilities they must carry out, undesirable as they may be.

Let’s talk undesirable. In a competition with all my friends as to who has had the worst job imaginable, I win every time. Guess what I did at the age of 19, home from college for the summer when all my friends were busy tanning? I worked in the men’s wing of a nursing home. Yep, I win. And I think I’m scarred for life. My second worst job was when I was a mere 12 years old. I worked at a local nursery poking holes in dirt and planting seedlings. I got paid by the plant, I think 13 cents per. I swear my hands were stained for months. I also babysat (the ubiquitous girl job), waited tables (the ubiquitous young person’s job), and helped at my mother’s office (the ubiquitous daughter job). I disliked many of these careers, outright hated most of the rest.

Yet every single one of these jobs built my work ethic and made me who I am today. Every job taught me life lessons. Bathing and caring for the elderly taught me compassion, as you would expect. But it also gave me an appreciation for my young body and my long life. I’m convinced it formed the basis of my pledge to live life to the fullest, because looking into the eyes of the aged, I saw a sense that childhood, to them, seemed just a moment away. I’m not going to lie – working with plants made me hate gardening. But it also taught me that working with my hands was not for me. I needed mental pursuits, intellectual curiosity, and dress-up clothes as part of my daily life. Waiting tables taught me graciousness toward those who serve, that some people can be petty and cruel, and that most are kind and generous. From my mom’s desk and filing cabinets, I learned that I could never work in an office. To this day when I visit my husband in that setting, I cringe a little. And babysitting taught me that kids are their parents’ treasures, and that caring for them was the most important task I would ever undertake. I can’t help but wonder if that’s what inspired me to become a teacher, to see value in nurturing other people’s treasures.

What would have happened if I had not had these experiences? Where would I be today? Would I have continued in school, as far as I could go? Would I have spent two decades in my career, striving to be better every year? Would I have the same level of appreciation for the life I’ve created, doing what I want to do and what I’m good at?

When my own kids became teenagers and I required that they work, I was able to see the benefits from an entirely different perspective. My kids worked alongside single moms, adults with stories longer than my kids’ lives, people with chips on their shoulders, and bosses with superiority complexes. They learned the invaluable lesson that not everyone grew up the way they did. They learned how much work goes into a minimum wage job, and the responsibility they must undertake as working individuals to pay taxes to keep the larger society running.

Never underestimate the power of a job. The most “menial” jobs teach us the most profound lessons. They might set our course for our future career or turn us off of a path we had considered. They teach us to show up on time, stay to the end, and complete our tasks. We must find methods in which to get along and even be productive with those with whom we would never associate otherwise. Most importantly, they force us to do that which we hate, and to keep doing it, as long as necessary to complete the job. Why would I wish that on someone I love? Because it teaches perseverance, patience, work ethic, and character, all of which are sorely lacking in many people nowadays.

I see it in my students every day, the huge gap between those who have worked in the real world and been forced to adapt to someone else’s expectations, and those who expect life to be easy and comfortable, their needs automatically met. The first group tends toward resourcefulness and internal drive; the second toward passiveness and entitlement.

Parents, I urge you to get your kids working during the teen years. A few hours of work a week can be as beneficial as a full-time summer job. It’s not about the quantity of time at the job. It’s about the experience of being in the real world and learning that their upbringing is not everyone’s upbringing, their lives not everyone’s lives.

For more advice on raising great teenagers, check out my book Teenagers 101.

8 ways prom has changed since we were teens

I don’t like to remind parents of their ages, especially since it reminds me of my age, but sometimes we need to be told that times have changed since we were in high school. Prom season is here, and while we all have stories (and unspoken memories) of those glory days, we shouldn’t expect our kids’ experiences to mirror our own.

Below are the 8 Parts of Prom every parent should understand.

1. It begins with behind the scenes texting. The modern day version of getting friends to advocate on your behalf or make suggestions to potential dates is almost entirely electronic. Whispered words in the hallway are passé. Since most kids attend prom in groups (see #3), group texts facilitate discussion and keep everyone in the loop.

2. The promposal is almost as important as the prom. Move over Brangelina, there’s a new nameblend in town. Promposals, defined as elaborate ways to ask a date to prom, usually in the most public way possible, are expected and expensive. It made big news last year when average prom costs rose to $1,000, but it’s even bigger news (IMHO) that promposals make up $324 of that cost. Capturing the big moment on video is almost more important than who asks. Friends advise and may even take part in the plan. Entire Tumblers are dedicated to promposal suggestions and ideas.

3. The vast majority of kids attend in groups. Gone are the days of the couples-only mentality. In fact, many kids take a date purely for photo purposes. It is much more common for kids to attend as friends, rather than love interests. This is reflected in their music preferences (see #4).

4. Turn Down for What?  Ballads and love songs are out and energetic dance songs are in. While our generation couldn’t wait for a romantic Lionel Richie song so we could get close to our dates, today’s teen prefers getting down to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk.  Upbeat party songs that entire groups can sing along with are what it’s all about.  And here’s a freaky thought – they also like the “oldies,” which for them – get ready – came out in the 2000’s.

5. Prom is a production. Forget about the one-venue event prom used to be. Kids today have a designated location to meet up with the group and take pre-prom photos. They then travel by limo or stretch Hummer to a restaurant where they can all be seated together and post photos to Instagram. Then it’s on to prom for dancing and more photos and live videos uploaded to Snapchat, followed by after-prom.  Prom is about seeing and being seen. Many times, in various locations and with several wardrobe changes.

6. It’s important to look 10 years older. While the rest of us are scrambling to turn back time, teen girls are pulling out all the stops to make themselves look as close to 28 as possible. Plunging neck lines, slips up to there, scoop backs, bare midriffs, and strategic slits all contribute to the lets-forget-I-was-fighting-teen-acne-yesterday persona . It’s up to parents, and oftentimes schools, to determine what’s acceptable. Guys still coordinate with their date’s attire and generally dress traditionally with a teen flare – a statement tie, a hat, Mad Men shoes – anything that shows a spark of personality and color in a sea of black and white.

7. Prom costs big bucks. Remember that $1,000 average cost I mentioned? If you’re a parent of a boy, you may be pitching in for the elaborate promposal, tux, limo, dinner, after prom activities, photos, and at least one prom ticket. For girls, expect nails, hair, tanning, makeup, dress, shoes, accessories, and possibly their own ticket. Beauty doesn’t come cheap, mom and dad.

8. Acceptance is encouraged. While intolerance still exists, this generation has grown up in a society that more readily accepts differences. The integration of kids with special needs, the blending of races and cultures, and the visibility of same-sex couples has changed the way prom looks today. Check out the plethora of posted photos and videos and you’ll see kids accepting kids, showing kindness toward those who are different, and welcoming others into their circles.

As different as prom may be decades later, it remains a once-in-a-lifetime snapshot of the evolution of a new generation. Embrace it, parents. And imagine what prom will be like on the next go-around with your grandkids.

prom kids dancing