How Parents Can Help Their Young Men Learn to Work for Themselves

In response to my post last week “Young Men Need to Work,” I received an email from a reader that made so much sense that I just had to share it with you (with her permission). She and her husband are raising their sons to know how to earn money without having a regular paycheck. Here’s what they’re doing this summer:

We are teaching our sons to think outside the box, much like the men in your family did.

One way is to help the elderly with their errands for a small fee. Today he is helping his dad paint a rental house that a senior citizen from our church inherited from his parents. The man can’t afford a professional painter yet the work still needs doing. My husband had the day off and took our 14 y/o with him. They will earn enough money for a small profit and just enough to buy a storage unit full of stuff from someone who defaulted on the bill. Then my husband will help our son post the items on eBay. With that money our son will purchase curriculum for this school year. Hopefully he will make more than when he started to be able to buy himself a Razor scooter.

We have to teach our kids to think outside the box as the box gets smaller and smaller.

This is a great example of parenting wisdom. These parents are teaching their sons to be of service to others while creating income for themselves. And I love her imagery of the box getting smaller. That’s how it’s going to be for a while. We’ve got to teach our children to live in the real world.

Many thanks to the mom who shared this with me.

Young Men Need to Work

A recent “Hi and Lois” comic strip shows Hi, the dad, dropping off his recyclables, pumping his own gas, using the self-checkout at the grocery store, stopping by an ATM machine and renting a movie using an automated machine. Later his teenage son comes home looking frazzled and announces “I cannot find a summer job! Where are all the jobs?!”

That’s a good question. Point taken.

As a five-year-old during the Great Depression, my dad sold gum on passenger trains to make money for his family. As a teen he hauled sacks of grain in a mill; he’s been a hard worker all his life and even though he’s pushing 80, he still repairs and restores cars and helps members of his family (just this week, he helped two different family members who were moving).

When my husband was a teen, he mowed his church’s acreage for free and cleaned buses for pay. By age 17, he had an engineering job that would become his occupation for many years. He’s always been a hard worker, has run two businesses and continues to work hard to take care of our family.

Ten years ago, my then-16-year-old son spent his summer working in a grocery store. It was a job he’d had for over a year; he would continue to work in several stores in that grocery chain throughout college. Today he has a good job for which he travels frequently and, because he’s in management, always puts in many hours.

You see the pattern here. Young men need to work. It helps them develop the work ethic they’ll need to support a family. But today, unemployment is very high among teens. In some areas it’s over 25%. Even those who do work are finding it hard to get more than 15 or 20 hours of work per week. We hope that this situation will change eventually, but what of our young men in the meantime? They’re at a crucial point in their development; if they can’t find work, it will be far too easy for them to sink into a stupor of gaming and partying as so many already do; others with more energy and nowhere to use it constructively may be easily lured into criminal activity out of boredom.

It’s crucial that we help our young men find work of any kind, paying or not. We can talk to our friends and neighbors to see who needs help around their homes and yards, or better yet, their businesses. Perhaps churches can mobilize their youth to work around the church grounds or in the community.

This is a nationwide problem; if we don’t get a handle on it, we’re going to have a generation of messed-up young men. That is not a comforting thought.

Homeschooling and Unemployed Parents

I heard on the radio this morning that 40% of the unemployed have been out of work for over a year. I don’t know how they come up with these statistics, but a quick mental survey of the people in my family and social circle makes me think that 40% is close to accurate or maybe even a little on the low side.

Am I the only person who thinks these people could take advantage of their downtime by homeschooling their kids? Given the state of the schools today, it seems like a win-win situation: the unemployed person finds something worthwhile to do with their days, and their child or teen actually learns a few things by working with their parent. Many of these parents aren’t going to find a job anytime soon. Given the changes in our economy, homeschooling might even turn out to be a long-term solution for both parent and child.

After all, homeschooling isn’t that hard, and teaching a child can be done much more efficiently at home than in a classroom of 30 students (62 if you live in Detroit.) Considering that many high schools students now text their way through class, it’s pretty easy to learn more at home than at school these days.

With all the great educational tools available in public libraries and on the Internet (for instance, there’s a nice free math and science education just waiting for young people right here), what can the schools do for kids today that we parents can’t? (Please don’t tell me that football games and proms are essential, because an entire generation of homeschooled adults have shown that they aren’t!)

Some people believe that the public schools are already going down, as Gary North has stated in his excellent article on the subject. The quality of education continues its slide into the abyss, and funding is likely to be cut, thanks to the financial problems most states and the Feds are struggling with.

I think that dying schools and unemployed parents could be blessings in disguise for American families. Unemployed parents who decide to take advantage of their newly found free time to facilitate their children’s learning can develop closer relationships with them while giving them a better, more individualized education that they can get in school. At the same time, they’ll combat the demoralizing feelings that come with being unemployed because they’ll be spending their days doing something that’s important and personally rewarding. They may even find that they feel better about themselves than they did when they were employed. Win-win, indeed!

Our Kids’ Competition for Future Jobs

When I hear that the unemployment rate is still going up, my immediate thought is for our kids and their future. We’ve been told that many of the jobs that were lost aren’t coming back due to technological change and offshoring. So how will our kids make a living? Will they have to deal with long periods of unemployment in their lives?

Those concerns are why I’ve written my new book, but talking to two of my children who are working adults has given me hope that things won’t be as bad as they seem. Both of them tell me that despite the high unemployment rate, it’s still hard to find good workers. They’ve expressed frustration with job applicants who barely speak during interviews and lazy new employees who spend their time texting instead of working. (These aren’t isolated incidences; they say it’s a pattern they see every day.)

These young employees have some ethical issues beyond laziness. One new employee borrowed a customer’s coupon during a transaction to get an additional discount on her own purchase. A self-identified Christian young man hired as a manager flunked his drug test.

As a result of experiences like these, my kids (who live in different states, by the way) think the high unemployment rate reflects a large number of incompetent people who can’t hold a job. That wouldn’t apply to several people over 40 I know who are among the long-term (2 years +) unemployed. But I think they’re having a hard time getting hired because they’re used to higher pay, and their age makes offering them health insurance a more expensive proposition. As for the younger people, maybe my kids are right.

In that case, we don’t have to worry as much about tough competition for our kids. If we raise them with moral character and a good work ethic along with the skills needed to compete in the 21st century, they should be ahead of most of their peers from the start.

Is College Worth the Cost?

The worse the economy gets, the more I’m seeing articles like this one asking whether today’s expensive college degrees are worth it. I suppose editors figure articles like this will grab the attention of those with degrees who can’t find work (misery loves company) and those without degrees who can’t find work (they’re thinking “See, a degree wouldn’t have helped!”)

The article is somewhat helpful in that the reporter tries to present both sides of the story. But there’s nothing there that you probably haven’t heard before, and some of the statistics used are a bit questionable. For example:

Studies indicate that college graduates are healthier, donate more blood, vote more often than other Americans and are more open-minded. They smoke less, exercise more and, a 2005 Pew study found, were 25 percent more likely than high school graduates to declare they were happy.

Note that it refers to college graduates. Last I heard, only half of college students actually graduate. So it makes sense that grads will be happier than non-grads, because many of the non-grads have the debt but not the sheepskin! Also, a healthy chunk of those who graduate come from families with above average income, which is where the likelihood of better health, less smoking and more exercise comes from, too. Other studies have shown that being happy is related to good health and having enough money. So duh.

Then there’s this factoid:

In 2007, Sandy Baum, a professor of economics at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., studied the value of a degree for the College Board. ….Baum said that college was easily worth the cost. Plus the recession has laid bare another factor to consider:

“Even in this economy, the number of unemployed college graduates is half that of the unemployed who did not go to college,” she said.

That’s supposed to make college “easily worth the cost”? How so? As noted later in the article, less than 1/3 of American adults are college grads. That means more than 2/3 of American adults are not college grads. Since 1/3 is half of 2/3, it makes sense that the number of unemployed college grads would be half of the number of unemployed non-college grads. If college was “easily worth the cost,” a far smaller percentage of college grads would be unemployed. As it stands, the unemployment rate of the two groups is about the same. Hardly a point on the pro-college side.

OK, so I’m picking nits. I guess I’m just getting tired of the pro-college cheerleaders (note that Dr. Baum’s study was for the College Board) whistling in the dark. But bear with me while I share one more reason for going to college, from the article:

Another, even grimmer way to look at it: The poverty rate is 10.8 percent among high school grads. It is one-third less for those with bachelor’s degrees.

I got out my trusty calculator and learned that if this statement is true, then the poverty rate among college grads is 7.1%. I’m sorry, but 7.1% vs. 10.8% doesn’t seem like an earth-shattering difference to me.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that parents believed the hype about college being a necessity and sent their kids there in droves. Now we’ve got way more college grads than we need. The lousy economy makes the situation even worse.

What to do? I found some thought-provoking suggestions in the comments section of the article. Here are a few that made sense to me:

“I’m glad I never went to college until I was sure of what I wanted to do for a living instead of wasting my education by studying some major that was only somewhat interested in……I know so many who never liked the field they studied for.”

“Higher education in this country is a scam, it’s bloated, over-priced, and has sold us a bill of goods for the last 20 years. When a student pays $1,000 for a class at a state institution and has a grad student teach it (while the professor ‘conducts research’) that amounts to robbery. The entire system from 7th grade on up needs to be scrapped and re-designed.”

“There needs to be more emphasis on technical careers. Everyone is not college material and some people just don’t want to go to college. High school guidance counselors need to do a better job of telling kids about technical careers (cosmetology, mechanics, HVAC, etc.). A middle class society needs to have a balance of college educated as well as citizens who have skills in technical fields. I’m probably wishing for too much, though.”

“Simply having a degree doesn’t separate you from the pack anymore like it once did as more and more people are earning their BS. It’s simply supply and demand now. Get a degree in economics along with 200,000 other students, and what job exactly requires an economics degree? How many people with marketing or business degrees do we need?

Focus on a specific career like engineering, something in the medical field, accounting, etc. and you’ll be fine…….And if you want to be a teacher, don’t spend $200k getting the degree because it’ll never pay itself back… go to school somewhere more reasonable.”

What do you think?