Reality Check: Young People Today…

How would you finish the phrase, “Young people today…”?

A frequent theme is, “Young people today don’t want to work,” or “Young people today can’t handle money,” or “Young people today expect to be taken care of.”

That criticism often concludes with, “When I was young…” because of course, when we were young, we were responsible, virtuous, essentially, pretty much perfect. At least I was, and as you’re reading this post, then you probably were too. Right?

However, the reality of the young people that I meet is that, in fact, they do want to work. They have other wants, too. Those include a home to call their own, money they can earn to take care of themselves and their family, a feeling of self-reliance. They also want the respect and recognition that comes from becoming skilled at something.  Do any of those wants strike a chord with you?

This isn’t to say that there are no young’uns who want to live forever in mommy’s basement, occasionally popping upstairs for meals and a basket of clean laundry.  I’m sure they exist. But that’s not the whole generation.

Let’s think about those young folks who do want to be responsible but seem to be headed in the opposite direction. Now, we know that we can’t control what others do. However, we can provide information, and sometimes, information is clearly lacking.

Take money, for example. Before criticizing the irresponsible actions of a young person who “can’t” handle money, consider: How did they learn?

How does one learn anything without information?

One effective way of providing information is to let natural consequences take their course. In the “olden days,” if we didn’t bake, we didn’t have bread. The action-consequence relationship was very clear.

Nowadays, the relationship between actions and consequences is often muddied. Cultural expectations imply that parents are obligated to provide all sorts of expensive goods and services for their children, ranging from organized sports to smartphones.

Curiously, there’s no similar cultural expectation to ensure that children learn the connection between those pricey goods and the sometimes backbreaking, onerous activities one needs to do to earn the money that pays for them. So, how would they know?

Some parents deliberately shield their children from the consequences of excessive spending. They want a happy childhood for their children, with no money worries. The intent sounds laudable. Is it effective?

Say you handle every single expense for little Zoe, while expecting absolutely no work or contribution from her to the household. Little Zoe leaves home and is suddenly thrust into a world where landlords demand rent, where microwaved snacks are the only food she can cook, and horrors, where laundry doesn’t do itself! 

Or, let’s say you discuss the connection between money and work with little Zoe. You set expectations that everyone contribute in some way to the day-to-day work of the household.  Little Zoe stills go out into a world of rent, meals, and laundry, but perhaps she’ll embark with her own budget, a recipe book she knows how to use, and a working knowledge of the washing machine!

Which is kinder to Zoe?

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