Generation Why Bother
I guess it’s among the hardships of wealth. Jeff Opdyke laments that his son doesn’t have the drive that he did, as a teenager, to earn money, mostly because he and his wife have admittedly been a bit too generous:
We get a lot of satisfaction in doing that. But it comes with a pretty big downside—one we’re only now beginning to grasp. Because of it, our son, who understands money far better than his young sister at this point, doesn’t understand what it means to pay his own freight. He has learned to count on Mom and Dad.
I remember, at a very young age, walking around my apartment complex trying to sell toys that I no longer wanted. At one point, I set up a stand on a semi-main road selling pictures that I’d drawn. (I think I charged a quarter each, tacking on another dime if the picture was signed.) My career advanced to soccer referee and then record-store retail.
Perhaps the objects of desire make a difference. At thirteen and younger, I mainly wanted action figures and comic books, which had a low enough price tag that the work translated quickly into things. It seems that higher ticket items are more prominent these days — videogames and iphones and such — which probably contributes to the nonchalance of Opdyke’s son at the prospect of making a few bucks mowing lawns.
Although, there’s surely something cultural in play, whether broadly (covering most families) or narrowly (depending on the attitudes of nearby friends). My friends and I would patrol miles of neighborhoods selling the service of snow shoveling.
Of course, there’s the opposing concern of parents:
[A former colleague’s] daughter, on the other hand, “always had jobs when she was old enough, and offers the opposite lesson,” my friend says. “She worked too hard and didn’t enjoy herself enough when she had the opportunity. Now she has a full-time job, has her two weeks off, and I think she missed out.”
Missed out on what? A teenager’s job becomes part of the experience of youth. And without enough money to keep up with peers, kids can miss out anyway. I started down my path of debt when my first credit card arrived just in time to allow me to go on a beech vacation with my late-teenage pals. If I hadn’t already had experience with what it means to work, I’d probably be in an even deeper hole, now, and with less natural drive to work my way out of it.
It’s a complaint of every generation of parents, no doubt, but it feels as if the times aren’t helping — what with all of the comforts and distractions, on one hand, and the well-honed traps that make spending money easy. As Opdyke suggests, “physical, maybe even uncomfortable, low-paying work” can be a healthy experience, of itself, if it serves to motivate young adults, but with the wireless glow of gadgets all around and the comforts of even working class homes, the lesson of “why bother” can take some effort to impart.