Artificial Maturity

Helping kids meet the challenge of becoming authentic adults

What Meaningful Work Does to Youth, Part 2

Youth today are growing up in a SCENE that adults created.

Last week, I blogged about what real “work” accomplishes in young people, and how scarce it is, among teens and even twenty-somethings. They often prefer the virtual.

I asked you to consider the landscape we now live in. Youth today are growing up in a SCENE that adults created. Sadly, it can be summarized with the word SCENE:

S – Speed. (Slow is bad)

C – Convenience. (Hard is bad)

E – Entertainment. (Boring is bad)

N – Nurture. (Risk is bad)

E – Entitlement. (Labor is bad)

My first job (outside of mowing the lawn), was tossing newspapers at 5:00 a.m. each morning. I was twelve years old. I hated getting up early but I loved the paycheck and the person I was becoming.

Then, at sixteen, I got a “real” job working at a fast-food restaurant. I watered the plants and hosed down the parking lot at 6:00 a.m. before school started. Eventually, I became a cook, then worked the cash register.

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I got my first career job at 19, working with teenagers. It was one of three jobs I held down while working on my bachelor’s degree. Ah, those were the good old days. Seriously, those really were good days. Here is what I found happened inside of me as a teen. When I engaged in meaningful work I discovered:

1. It usually transforms knowledge into wisdom
2. It turns arrogance or presumption into humility
3. It always translates information into application
4. It changed sloppy spending habits into thrifty ones
5. It converted rude cockiness into genuine confidence
6. From those jobs, I learn practical insights about reality:

  • It’s harder than I thought it would be
  • It takes longer than I thought it would take
  • People are tougher than I thought they would be
  • It cost more money and energy than I assumed it would.

Unfortunately, many teens today don’t learn these lessons. They don’t enjoy what was normal for teens when I was growing up. Today, the average high school student doesn’t work a job. Instead, they are busy with virtual activities, but often not real ones.

I am only suggesting we reconsider what we encourage our students to do with their spare time. The not-so-glitzy stuff called “real work” may just develop the emotional, social and ethical muscles that have yet to mature.

What do you think about the role of meaningful work in teens today?

Tim Elmore is the founder and president of Growing Leaders, an international non-profit organization created to develop emerging leaders.

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