The greatest athletes in the world start training when they are young. The greatest musicians start taking lessons when they are children. Some of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world were starting businesses when they were teenagers. To become great at something, it takes a lot of time and effort. Habits that children learn when they are young, will stay with them until they are old. So what are we encouraging our kids to be great at? Are we teaching them to be hard workers, problem solvers and world changers? Or are they learning to be great video game players, shoppers and consumers? The greatest generation was great in part because they were one of the hardest working generations. Are the up and coming generations going to be great?
I feel like kids today are being setup and encouraged to fail. We have laws that keep most kids from working a normal job until they are 16 years old. Then the combination of hormones, high school and a lack of any marketable skills keeps most of these teenagers from working until after high school. At that point, about half of students head off to college where they can borrow enormous amounts of money via student loans to keep them from working until after they graduate. The other half of the students are 18 years old, with zero marketable skills, lacking any sort of career path and they are expected to go out and productively enter the workforce. It’s no wonder 30% of those 35 and under are still living at home with their parents and 50% of those 16-24 are either unemployed or underemployed.
Who’s responsible for teaching kids to work?
It’s easy to point the finger at growing government regulation and failed policy, but I think that’s partially misguided. Ultimately parents are responsible for teaching their kids how to work, even if the government doesn’t want them to work. It needs to start at home, and the earlier the better. Kids need to be taught from a young age that they can be productive and pull their own weight. Only parents are going to be able to teach this to them.
What can be expected of kids?
Alot. Kids will rise to that which is expected of them. The sad part is that most parents have a combination of low expectations, no vision and no plan for how they are going to raise their kids to thrive in the world they are growing up in. So most kids are left to a sort of group standard that only seems to be getting lower and lower each year.
For whatever reason, I seem to question the way that everything is done and ask myself if there is a better way. I’ve also been surrounded by some families that long ago chose to expect more from their children, and results have blown my mind. They are some of the most well rounded, successful people I’ve ever met. So my wife and I decided early on that we would be doing things differently. We were going to expect more from our children, because we deeply care for them and want what’s best for their lives. One of our resolves was to teach our kids how to work from an early age. We are far from perfect and don’t claim to have the perfect system, but here are some of the ways we have been teaching our kids to work.
From the time they were able to walk, we started by teaching them to follow simple instructions. Simple things like picking a toy off the floor, or bringing a book to mommy. The goal at this age is to teach obedience and to listen to mommy and daddy’s voice. As they grew older we began teaching other chores. By the ages of 2-3 a child can help with putting things away that they got out, cleaning up their toys and other basic household chores, such as putting clean utensils away and making their beds. At this point, the goal is to begin giving them small responsibilities, teaching them to start and finish a job, and ultimately teaching them that they can already be contributing to the family.
At ages 4-5, the kids are folding laundry, setting the table, doing more inside cleaning and we would start them doing more outside chores. They can rake leaves, pull weeds, water the plants and flowers. We also started giving them the responsibility of feeding and making sure the cat had water.
At ages 7-8, we started having our boys actually do the entire load of laundry. They would load the washer, start the water and put the soap in. Afterwards, they would transfer the clothes to the dryer and start the dryer. We also started them loading the dishwasher and putting dishes away afterwards. They are also in charge of taking the trash out and bringing the trash cans to the street.
At this point, the key is simply to build on wherever each child is at. If they have shown the ability to consistently keep the cat’s water bowl filled, give them the responsibility of feeding the cat as well. If they are strong enough to pull weeds and rake leaves, are they strong enough to start mowing the lawn? Allow responsibility to lead to more responsibility. Kids climb stairs one at a time just like everyone else.
At ages 8-9, things start getting interesting. By this time, kids can start doing more complex tasks. They are reading now, doing basic math and their problem solving skills are starting to get better. Our 8 year old mows the lawn and does lots of other yard work, changes the cat litter, does the laundry, does the dishes and pretty much any other household chores. He has also been learning to type, taking basic computer programming courses and has been showing a lot of interest in business. So, I decided that I would start training him to replace me in the appliance business.
The 8 year old businessman
Here’s where we are at now with our oldest son. He’s 8 years old, turns 9 in September. We are homeschooling him so he goes through subjects at his own pace, year around. He’s already in 4th grade math and is reading at a pretty high level. He’s pretty proficient with the computer, he’s learning how to type as well as basic computer programming. Since he’s been watching and observing how the appliance business operates, he can already find good deals on Craigslist all on his own. He can also do a lot of the cleaning on the appliances. It is going to be a little longer before he’s big and strong enough to move the appliances around, and fully take them apart for repairs etc. But that will come.
My goal over the next few years is to teach him how to diagnose and repair all the appliances that we work on. I’m slowly having him do more and more of the paperwork, teaching him how to post items on Craigslist and even be in charge of our parts inventory. By the time he’s 11 or 12, he could very reasonably be doing everything but answering the phone and driving to pick up and deliver the appliances. He will be paid very well for the work as it will enable me to spend my time working on other projects. How much could a 10 year old be worth per hour? We will find out, and I will pay him what I would have to pay anyone else to do the work.
Here’s the kicker, he loves it. He loves learning new things and he loves working with his dad. He’s also able to put what he is learning in school to practical use, which makes the learning process all that much easier. He’s also making great money in the process.
You are going to rob your kids of childhood happiness!
Far from it. They are still going to be doing school work each day. They are still going to play with their friends and siblings each day. They are signed up to play soccer. Our children live very enjoyable, normal lives, both here in Oregon and Hawaii. But because we operate a business from home, it gives them extra opportunity to work and even earn money, right from home. Here are some of the things my wife and I have been trying to teach our kids about work.
1. Work is adding value
One of the reasons many people despise work so much is that they don’t really understand the value that the work is adding. That’s assuming the work is adding value. One of the quickest ways to defeat a person’s spirit is to make them do work that has absolutely no purpose or adds no value. An example would be having a prisoner dig a 4ft wide by 4 ft deep hole until it was complete, and then just have them fill it back in immediately afterwards. That’s an extreme example, but take time to explain to your kids the value of the work they are doing.
2. Work is solving problems
Most work can be boiled down to problem solving. Some are obvious problems like an elderly person not being able to clean out their own gutters. If they are able to clean the gutters for the neighbor, they help solve the neighbor’s problem of clogged gutters, and their own problem of needing money to live.
3. Work leads to satisfying rest
There is no sweeter sleep that one can get than after an exhausting day of work. Hard work leads to sweet rest.
4. Work, saving and investing can lead to financial prosperity
I’ve set goals for my boys to pay cash for their first home by the time they are 18-20. I talk to them about what it would be like to not have a house payment when they are young, and how much of their money that could free up for investing in the long term. I talk to them about being able to work not because they have to for money, but because they choose to. This has proven to be a very effective motivational tool as they see where the hard work can lead.
Start a business
Each year that passes is going to be harder and harder for young people to find work. Even those that can run circles around their peers will get skipped over for all sorts of reasons. Also, when you factor in that states like Washington are raising the minimum wage to $15 hour, low skilled, entry level jobs are going to be harder and harder to find in the coming years. If you think the job market is tough now, just wait until more states adopt higher minimum wages. It’s going to drive businesses to innovate and figure out ways to employ less people to cut labor costs. That’s why you can’t rely on others to employ your kids, especially when they are young.
The good news is, thanks to marketplaces like Craigslist, and the internet in general, it’s easier than ever before to start a side business that your kids can help you with, and eventually run. It doesn’t even have to be profitable at first, as the experience they will gain will be worth far more than any early profits. Coming up with good business ideas comes through exercise. The more time you spend thinking and wrestling over problems to solve, the better you will get at seeing value where others don’t. That is when great business ideas present themselves, and they are often right in front of you.
So go, ruin your kid’s childhood
Yes, I encourage you to ruin your kids childhood by teaching them to work. Ruin it by teaching them new skills and trades instead of having them hone their video game skills. Ruin it by putting them 10-15 years ahead of their peers in skills, work experience and their finances. Ruin it by teaching them how to start and operate their own business at a young age so they can learn failure early when it’s less painful. Ruin it by setting them up to be problem solvers and world changers by their late teens and twenties. One day they will thank you, along with many other people whose lives they impact.
I’d love to hear your stories of how you were taught to work, or how you are teaching your children to work.