Never thought I'd hear myself say it . . . "What's the matter with kids these days?"
Well, you can't lump all kids into one big bunch, but the truth is there are a lot of things wrong with so many of our kids these days. All research indicates growing drug usage, especially marijuana — almost 46 percent of junior and senior high school kids, according to Paul Harvey this morning. And just as disturbingly, kids confess to lying, cheating, being chronically dishonest at home and school and not feeling especially guilty about it.
Sex? Thanks to many alarming factors, including one recent U.S. president's example, high schoolers and even pre-teens talk fairly openly about experimentation and frequent experience with sex, sometimes right on school property, during the day!
Some parents seem not to be as concerned as they should be (a terrible sign in itself), while millions more just wring their hands, pray, scold, beg, and pry, wondering what in the world can be done about this miserable mess.
I have an urgent suggestion, based on my own life experience as a kid and later as a parent: Put the kids to work!!
What's the old saying? "An idle mind is the devil's workshop"? Too often, it proves true. And an after-school paying job can go a long way toward keeping a kid headed in a positive direction.
I was on all the athletic teams during my junior high and high school years, so baseball, football, tennis, and basketball gave me little "idle mind" time. And I worked one year as a salesman in the now defunct National Shirt Shops on Saturdays, to earn pocket money toward my first car, a '50 Chevy with 90 thousand miles on it.
Several summers, my brother Nick and I worked at least eight or nine weeks for our dad in his construction business. We dug ditches, pushed wheelbarrows, and poured concrete, and toted heavy lumber, taking home a dollar an hour. (Our third year we got a dollar and a half.) Plus, we got fabulous tans and trim physiques, and felt like real men. And boy, did those last several weeks before school started again seem like heaven!
Did we feel deprived or oppressed? Are you kidding?
We were eager to have those jobs and earn our own money! We hardly realized how little it was . . . It was ours, to do with what we chose. And we chose to pay our own tuition and buy our own books at David Lipscomb Christian High School, since hardworking Daddy, supporting six of us, couldn't have swung it. And believe me, we appreciated the privilege of a Christian education so much more, because we were paying for it ourselves.
Besides, work wasn't new for us. Mama and Daddy had given each of us, my brother and two sisters, chores and jobs and responsibilities by the time we started first grade. We made our beds, straightened our rooms, hung up our clothes each day and dusted and mopped on Saturday.
Nick and I shared mowing the lawn (over an acre, on a sloping hill) with a hand mower, no fancy power machine. And from the time we were 12, he and I took turns milking the family cow, Rosemary, morning and night. We were still doing these things when Shirley and I married, just out of our freshman year in college.
And you know something? All that "work" made us feel we were part of a team, which we certainly were, that each was contributing something to the wellbeing of all. And we felt needed and useful. I took good care of the clothes I bought, and I still have some of the school books.
Listen, if you pay for something with money you earned — maybe literally by the sweat of your brow — it has value. And I actually wanted to learn what was in those books I worked and paid for!
I made straight As right through high school in every subject but one. I may yet go back and make up for my few Bs in that mystifying mental maze, physics!
Then, as parents of four daughters, Shirley and I applied the same principles at home. Making beds, cleaning rooms, hanging up clothes, and having various responsibilities around the house in Beverly Hills, Calif. Sure, we had household help, but that did not excuse the girls from their duties. And then, just as some of their school friends were beginning to experiment with drugs and alcohol and boys, I created a "family act" and took the whole family on the road with me!
For seven years, Shirl and the girls and I were the "Pat Boone Family," on records, TV, and concerts. During those crucial teen years, when girls particularly are threading their way through a moral, spiritual, and physical mine field of temptation and pitfalls, our girls took leaves of absence, got their homework assignments in advance, and hit the road with us, performing as a family.
It wasn't the most professionally expedient thing for a pop singer to do, but it made it possible for Shirl and me to keep the girls in sight at all times. And the girls loved it — much in the same way, I now feel, as I did when Nick and I were contributing to the family good, digging ditches and milking cows.
The result? Four beautiful young women passed through their mom's loins and our household, entertained millions around the world, never touched pot or got drunk or developed a smoking, cursing, or drinking habit . . . and came to their marriage partners as virgins.
Once, dear friend Merv Griffin conspiratorially asked our daughters, on his TV show, "Come on, girls, be honest; you have pretty strict parents. Don't you sometimes think you're missing something?" And our oldest, Cherry, answered for the four girls, "Yes . . . trouble. We're missing a lot of trouble."
Today, I see so many young people, on every economic level it seems, lazing around home in the evenings, wanting to go out and "party," feeling bored with school, disappearing in the afternoons after school, and complaining if they have to clean up after a pet or wash a dish or hang up a towel in the bathroom.
They feel entitled to handouts of money and the latest toys and cell phones and sneakers and jeans; they have to look like the latest teen queen or heart throb, and they simply must see the movie and have the CD, with the iPod to capture and belch back the seditious rap and songs moaning of heartbreak and disillusionment.
School? It's just a torment to endure and somehow get through, cheating and lying if necessary. It's just a place to pick up the latest gossip, show off the new hairdo or outfit, and catch the eye of the current heartbreaker.
And in this vapid moral vacuum, drugs and sex and all kinds of immorality have a field day. Awful violence often follows, brought by alienated loners and mind-poisoned misfits and even gun-toting gangs, made up mainly of kids whose parents have given up on them.
Many schools have to hand-check book bags for guns, knives, and drugs! And they hand out free condoms like so much bubblegum.
Is there any answer to this nightmarish development? Is it too late?
Is society lost?
No — put the kids to work! Parents, these kids have wonderful energy and ability; give them assignments that demand a lot of them, that give them a sense of accomplishment and worth. Help them find after school employment that will earn respectable money; make up jobs, like dog walking and lawn mowing and flower care, like morning paper routes and bike delivery from stores—stuff that older people will pay for.
Don't let weekends be just a time to laze around and do nothing but watch TV and gossip on the phone, planning various kinds of possible trouble. Get 'em jobs! Washing cars, working in a store, painting street numbers on curbs, anything—something. And expect results.
Demand growth. Reward good work. Compliment effort. Absolutely forbid sass and disrespect; disobedience is not an option, and not much argument is to be tolerated. There's a natural pecking order, and advancement is earned, but definitely possible. Discipline is love, and love feels good. It does good, and it is good.
Put your kids to work. Someday they'll thank you for it.
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