Working toward work ethic

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Are we raising a generation of YouTube star wannabees? It’s easy to see what the appeal is for those kids who want to grow up and be “famous YouTubers”, as they call it. The hard pill to swallow, however, is the realization that so many of these kids want this “job” because it is perceived as easy, and because the top stars make a lot of money.

Few things matter more to me than the value of good old fashioned hard work. I really enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. For example, I don’t meticulously care for my lawn every weekend because I think it’s a critical chore; I do it because it’s very satisfying to get such a tedious job done, and done right. People who aren’t afraid to get dirty and expend some effort are the people who truly make the world go round. There is nothing wrong with wanting to relax or have leisure time, but I have always been firm on the fact that I’ll never be the man who is comfortable sitting around watching someone else grunt and groan over a job. Many hands make light work.

How are today’s kids holding up when it comes to putting some blood, sweat, and tears into a task they can be proud of? Obviously not all kids can be painted with the same brush. Many of us have seen social media shout outs for local kids who have taken the initiative to open up a lemonade stand, or push the family lawnmower down the street, eagerly asking neighbours if they want a helping hand with their yardwork in exchange for minimal cash. This past winter, I was impressed by a local boy and girl – either friends or siblings – who approached me in my driveway asking if I needed help clearing snow. They had their own shovels with them, and I don’t doubt that they were prepared to do a very thorough job. I regret that I had to say no, only because my own kids would have been outraged that someone else had done “their” job and earned “their” money.

Of course, there are those kids who don’t want to put the effort in. There are kids, just as there are adults, who don’t have a good work ethic. And it is my unfortunate observation that often, the kids who want to do the least hard work, are often the kids who have the greatest aspirations of future wealth. How does a parent handle that? It’s tough, to be sure. It seems that being a “YouTube star” may be the modern equivalent of 80s and 90s era kids wanting to grow up and be famous NHL players. How many actual hockey players had parents who told them they were being unrealistic as children, and that the odds of being drafted into the NHL were slim-to-none and a total waste of time to even try? I would hate to be that parent. Similarly, I wouldn’t want to see one of my kids as a famous YouTube star, sitting on a talk show discussing how unsupportive his parents were, growing up.

Promoting hard work in kids is not just a moral imperative, it also has other important benefits. There is the obvious one – work is exercise, and exercise is beneficial for physical health. However, many people may not realize that exercise is actually the first best treatment for clinical depression. There is something unique about getting up and moving – no matter how, why, or when – that acts as a proverbial “chicken soup” for both the body and the mind.

The other important aspect of work is the sense of accomplishment. Kids don’t need to huff and puff to feel the sense of pride that comes following a job well done. Finishing a task and being proud of the results does wonders for self esteem and can help in achieving an overall sense of mental well-being. These tasks can be as simple as putting a few dishes away, or sorting some laundry, or cutting up some vegetables for a meal.

The parenting challenge, for those whose kids want fame, glory, and money without doing any hard work, is to delicately balance giving them a reality check, while also being supportive. It’s okay to be honest about the simple fact that most YouTube stars have parents who were wealthy long before YouTube. Extravagance attracts viewers. Sure, buying a handful of expensive cameras and paying four staff to turn your mansion into a carnival ball bit attracts viewers and YouTube ad-sharing revenue, but it is not a get rich quick scheme. One must already be rich to put on such a display. If a kid understands this and still wants help making YouTube videos, it could just be that they want to spend some quality time with mommy or daddy. The desire to be a YouTube star may just be a child’s imagination at work, similar to playing doctor or cops and robbers. Who doesn’t remember pretending to be a famous musician while singing along to our favourite songs as a child? It doesn’t mean we were set on a career in music, but it’s still fun to dream and to pretend. It’s also important to remember that while being a “YouTuber” may not necessarily be a practical life goal, working hard toward this goal is work ethic nonetheless.

A final word of (hopefully) wisdom gleaned from my limited life experience is this: a little praise goes a long way toward building work ethic. Sure, most kids suck at chores, and many of their food creations are hardly cook show worthy, but the pure effort of trying is something that every parent should be proud of, and a few excited words of encouragement will always guarantee that they will be happy to try again.

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