8 Things I’m Teaching My Kids about Work

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I don’t just want my kids to have fun during their childhood. I want them learn to work and add value to the world. An enormous amount of problems exist in the world today and what we need more than anything is a generation of kids that are being raised to both look for those problems, and tackle them with a confidence that they can make a difference. Confidence comes from practice, and practice takes time. I want my kids to have fun their entire life. The best way to do that is to encourage and equip them with a good work ethic as early as possible.

In the summer of 1988 almost 70 percent of teenagers had a job. This past summer, only 43 percent were working or even looking for jobs. BLS is predicting it will be down to 27% by 2024. Working used to be a rite of passage or a sign that someone was growing up and mature. Now work is being avoided as long as possible. This pattern has got to be rejected by both parents and their children and in this post I will share some things you can do that could put your children a decade ahead of their peers. 

I don’t want to come across as arrogant in setting myself up as some parenting guru that has everything figured out. I don’t. But we’ve seen a lot of fruit from our efforts to teach our kids to view work differently and I want to share some of those things here. I hope it’s helpful. If you teach your children to embrace and enjoy work at a young age you could give them a ten year head start over their peers.  

1. The family works together. It’s true when children are young parents do all the work. But as soon as a child can start walking they can start helping, and kids know this! I have seen my children leap at the opportunity to help even if it’s just taking something to the garbage or dirty clothes basket. We need to teach our kids to think about the needs of the family, the needs of their siblings and their parents rather than just themselves. A big way they can do this is by taking on as much responsibility and work around the home as they are able to.  

I remember when our children were pretty young and my wife was overwhelmed with housework and daily demands that small children bring.  The boys were 5, 4 and 2 and we had a newborn baby girl.  It was often easier to let them go off and play or watch cartoons for hours on end. But together we realized that they were more than capable of helping out around the house and being productive. So we began teaching them how to help with different chores, and slowly they started becoming a big help around the house. They are capable of far more at young age than we think!      

2. Home is the best place to learn how to work. Children aren’t born with a very good work ethic. They tend to give up easily, get discouraged, do a poor job, aren’t very thorough, aren’t self-starters and aren’t very perceptive in noticing what needs to be done. These things and many others must be taught. The teaching process can take years and is filled with mistakes and is difficult. But difficulties and pain are good, as almost all growth comes through through much difficulty. 

So where’s the best place for a child to be pushed and encouraged to push themselves to do better work, more thorough work, to be persistent and to not give up? I don’t think it’s out in the world, I think it should start right at home. Ideally this is by loving parents that have the trust of their children that they are doing what’s best for them. 

I remember when I was first teaching my boys to do yard work. I would show them what weeds were and tell them to pull all the weeds in the yard. Five or ten minutes later they would come back inside saying they were done and tired.  I would then go back outside and show them that there were still hundreds of weeds and that they needed to keep working. Now parents need to be perceptive and not push their kids to do more than they can handle. What’s the best way to figure out what they can handle? Go out and work with them so you know exactly how difficult the job is. If they can handle pulling weeds for 30 minutes one week, encourage them to go for 45 minutes the next. 

3. See work as adding value. If work is seen as drudgery that prevents more valuable activities from happening, then it will be avoided as much as possible instead of being embraced. The world needs us to embrace work and view it for what it is. Work is a value adder that makes the world a better place. 

Once work is seen as adding value it changes everything. If a person wants to start a business, it’s not what should they do, but it’s where can they add value to the world right in front of their nose. If a person wants a job at a particular company, it’s no longer how can they pad their resume, but  rather how can they add value to them. If a person wants to help their neighbor or community, it’s no longer where do I work but where can I add value. 

The more practice someone has at adding value, or recognizing where value needs to be added, the more successful they will be in life. Like I’ve said before, inevitably, where value is added, profits are made.


4. Work is not easy.
Sounds obvious, but children are growing up right now in a digital environment where everything is instant, automated and easy. If they have a question they can bark at an Amazon Echo or Google Home device. Research is a second away via Google. So what should we do? Take away all their devices, laptops, phones and make them do things the old fashioned way? Many people choose that route, but I think it’s unnecessary to ignore current tools that make certain types of work easier. Instead we have just chosen to both encourage the use of digital tools while at the same time teaching them through physical labor that work is not easy. Primarily this has been through yard work. Pulling weeds, racking leaves, mowing lawns, weed whacking etc. When we purchased our house this past year we cut down about 200 weed/junk trees around our property and cut them into small enough chunks that the boys could haul them away piece by piece. 

Over the years I have seen their stamina and focus grow. They can now do very hard work for a full day without complaining. You might be thinking that this sounds horrible, but this is making them stronger and giving them a backdrop or contrast in which to compare all the work they encounter in the future. They will approach even the hardest jobs with a confidence that only comes through experience. They learn that there is an end to the hard work, even if only via rest at the end of the day. This helps them persevere. 

Life is not easy. Work is not easy. If work were to be compared to running, we will be running for decades of our life. A good runner doesn’t become a runner overnight, and they certainly don’t become a good runner by sitting on the couch playing video games. They become a good runner by running! So get your kids running, or working as early as possible. It will set them up for success and quite possibly could give them a head-start of up to a decade or more ahead their peers.  

5. They can add value at any age. Why is it such a big deal when a young person does something that adds enormous value to the world? I believe it’s because most of our culture expects zero contributions from our youth until they become adults. I think this is crazy! Kids are amazingly fast at learning and coupled with lots of time and little to no expenses, they are free to take on very ambitious projects. But they need encouragement from their parents, teachers and loved ones to free their ambition. 

6. To see the value in working when they are young. First a note to critics of having kids work very much when they are young as it prevents them from “being kids”. We still encourage our kids play, explore, surf and swim but it’s not every moment of their free time. It’s in moderation and our goal is to teach them that life is not just goofing off and playing. The sooner they can learn to moderate their leisure time the better. Letting kids go wild for 18 years and then hoping they quickly learn to discipline themselves and their time is a pipe dream.

The best way to teach kids how to wisely spend money is to make them earn the money beforehand. So the younger they are earning money, the sooner they get to start learning how to be wise with their money. 

Once they start earning money you can teach them how to invest it. If they start young enough, and learn valuable skills, they can make a lot of money by the time they are 18 years old. Why shouldn’t kids be able to buy a house with cash when they graduate high school? Or, if they invest it all and learn to be frugal, why couldn’t they reach financial independence when they are in their 20’s? They wouldn’t need to retire and stop working, but they would be free to work on whatever they want, whenever they want. I think the best way for people to obtain financial freedom at a young age is to not waste all the years where their expenses are almost nothing and start saving young. 

7. Kids need follow opportunity not their passions. Kids are often told from a young age to follow their passion and follow their dreams. But I think this is really bad advice because passions and dreams won’t pay the bills unless those passions and dreams are in high demand. Telling kids to follow their passions encourages them to focus on themselves instead focusing outward on the world and hinders them from recognizing where there’s opportunity or demand for value to be added. 

Kids shouldn’t ignore their passions and dreams.  But they should pursue opportunity and bring their passions with them as Mike Rowe often says.  


8. To value all types of work, and all levels of training.
 Let’s be honest. It’s very common in the US for people to look down on certain types of jobs, careers and skill levels. We look down on the garbage person, the plumber and the person that works with their hands. We look down on the person without a college degree and the person that received their training outside the ivory walls of expensive universities. It’s career snobbery and it’s extremely prevalent in our culture and has been for decades. The only way to change this absurd way of thinking is to first make sure that we ourselves don’t harbor any of those beliefs. Then, we need to teach our kids to value all work, all workers, all skill levels, and all career paths. 

When I first started buying/selling things on Craigslist for a living I would get people looking at me all the time with their head caulked sideways and their eyes squinting, as they tried to get their brain around the idea of me earning a living on Craigslist. Then once they got it, immediately their next question was to assure themselves that this was only a temporary thing while I looked for other ways to earn a living. It was a perfect teaching example for my kids to show them that’s it’s ok to go against our culture’s norms in spite of what others think. 

The experience is still fresh in my mind and it’s one of the reasons why I am so quick to encourage people toward alternatives to college, to look into the trades, to get their education online, or get an apprenticeship. As I’ve looked around over the years, I’ve realized that there is a huge percentage of our society that has not gotten a traditional education and they are happy, have jobs, earn a living and enjoy life. So I’m pointing out these people and paths to my kids all the time. I’m going to start sharing more of these stories with you all soon. 

Have you seen a change in the work ethic of kids over the years? Have you observed a decline in the skills that kids posses by the time they are out of high school? I would love to hear your stories and observations, and I hope you all are doing well! 

14 COMMENTS

  1. Agreed Ryan and it starts with good parents teaching them at a young age work ethics. There is a lot of kids living in single parent homes now that are struggling. Good job Ryan.

  2. Yep yep. Why I encouraged both of my boys to labor in local mills, and told Jack if he wanted to be a nurse he had to work at the bottom of the healthcare ladder doing the grossest drudge work to see what it’s all about and if he had the heart for it.
    Max labored without pay on an organic farm for several weeks and slept outside rain or shine while he lived there.

    Great experiences and now that they are both professionals with good jobs, they can still understand physical labor, economics, production, etc. like the post points out, they also know the value of a dollar and are wise and disciplined with their budgets.

    I actually used to get a lot of flack for ‘making’ my kids ‘work’ (or in reality- contribute to the home and family, then later earn their own spending money outside the home).

    People seem to forget that childhood is simply the preparation for the rest of our lives. It’s not some special sacred state that has a different framework. As parents our whole job is to prepare them to be independent of us! (Spiritually, physically, financially, etc) Play and fun and typical ‘kid’ stuff is just one part of that preparation. Too many parents shy away from the more serious and important parts. IMO. 😀

    • “People seem to forget that childhood is simply the preparation for the rest of our lives. It’s not some special sacred state that has a different framework. As parents our whole job is to prepare them to be independent of us! (Spiritually, physically, financially, etc) Play and fun and typical ‘kid’ stuff is just one part of that preparation. Too many parents shy away from the more serious and important parts. IMO. 😀”

      So true! Thanks for sharing!

  3. This is such great stuff! I admire your insights. My kids are grown, and as I look back at things I did well, and things I wish I had done differently, I admire people who have it figured out better than I did!

    • I can’t take much credit as almost everything I’ve learned has been from older people that we have watched, asked advice from and have been mentored by. I think each generation grows up and if they’re willing to observe the weaknesses in their own generation have a unique opportunity to correct some of those weaknesses when they raise their own kids. Glad you appreciated it Jeremy!

  4. We are struggling with getting our teenager to help out at home. She’s been doing various household chores for years, but it seems almost impossible to step it up to more substantial contributions without encountering resistance and avoidance.

    Any thoughts on how to encourage her to do more without causing resentment? Her friends have few chores and spend a lot of time on their screens, so it seems like she thinks we are asking too much when we want her help in the yard and garden. (most of her chores so far have been indoors, such as cleaning and cooking…getting her hands dirty outside is a different story)

    THANKS!

    • Hi Liz, I think the biggest thing that will need to be done is to have a sit down talk with her and explain the heart motives behind you wanting her to gain a good work ethic. Talk to her about what she would like to do when she gets older, how she would like to add value and then walk her through the steps that would be helpful to get there. Show her that she’s too valuable to waste so much of her time on things that aren’t going to be helpful in the future.

      Connect how her behavior and actions today will affect her future. Be persistent with her and don’t give up!

  5. All I can say is Thank You. I hope you can read into that the depth and appreciation that I am trying to convey. Thank you. Many, many blessings to you & your wife, and your very fortunate children.

  6. Great post! This is how my parenting philosophy started out so many years ago. It’s easy to let the effort slip as life (theirs and ours) gets busy, so this is a great reminder to keep up the ‘raising’ part of raising kids. Mahalo!

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