Chores and Responsibility for Kids

I have recently realized that Farmhand (aged 9) has far more chores and responsibilities than I ever had as a child. Important work, too. If the work doesn't get done, animals suffer and perhaps die or get killed.

I think that's one of the most valuable aspects of living on a farm -- something that's missing from many children's lives. I heard one parent say "Oh, I don't bother giving my children chores." At first that disturbed me. They went on to say they meant scheduled chores. They are required to do what they are asked when they are asked, say "clean up your room." Ok -- that makes sense. Many of farmhand's non-farm chores are like that.

That got me thinking. In modern life there is very little critical sink-or-swim scale work for children to be involved in or even be aware of. Family income is usually just something that happens when the parents are not home. The rewards of school (e.g. getting a good job) is so far in the future it's really an abstraction.

Then there's the relatively new practice of having no winners or losers. All members on all sports teams get a trophy. At the arcade you get the same number of tickets whether you excel or fail.

Once you remove the reward for excellence and penalty for poor-performance what are you left with? Perhaps entitlement, ambivalence and complacency.

Maybe that explains the problem I see in young workers:  The nearly complete absence of willingness to step up to the plate and take ownership of a task or responsibility. They lack the desire to excel. They lack of ambition. They've simply had no exposure to these concepts.

Sure, Farmhand resisted and complained at first. One of his jobs is to date-stamp and label the egg cartons. He hates this job. He would always complain if we had a lot of eggs. Considering how much money we lost this year to predators it always irked me. Then I realized he had no tie in between work and reward. His work produced no personal benefit. Sure, he knew the price of failure, but not the benefit of success.

He was due for an allowance raise a few months ago. Rather than just giving him more each week I started giving him 5 percent of gross sales. Now he's invested. He sees the relationship of work-to-reward and it brought about a quick change in attitude. No he looks for ways to improve the farm.

Some might object and say "When I was a kid I never got paid." That's true but it's a much different world. TV and movies were filled with positive values. Our societal zeitgeist was "work hard and get ahead." I don't see that anymore. The farm is also not an income source, we still loose money (alas!). So it's not like a good harvest or good season has meaning to him (until now).

I also constantly teach him, to the point of being a mantra, "bring me solutions, not problems."

Today he asked me to teach him how to do laundry so he could wear his favorite clothes more often.

Way to go, Farmhand!

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