I sat with a client in the past week who is just now facing the harsh realization that life requires work. I really felt for this person because things have always been handed to them, and suddenly that is going to stop. This person really doesn’t know how to manage on their own. They are definitely smart enough, but just don’t have the training needed to push through challenges because they’ve never had to struggle; if you don’t struggle as a child or teen then you don’t know how to get yourself through it when you struggle as an adult.
I don’t know how it was for you growing up, but for me, this was gradually taught. From the time my sister and I were small we were required to do a little bit around the house. We grew up in an affluent neighborhood, and our parents could have given us as much as all the other kids got. They made a conscious decision to make us work for things instead. It was incredibly frustrating as a child. I would be invited to a birthday party, and my parents had a rule that I had to pay for half of whatever birthday gift I got for someone. So, while my friends all gave each other designer this and that, I usually was giving them a card with a $10 bill inside (this was the mid-1990s so that was plenty). I was too young to have a job so in order to obtain my half of the $10 bill, I would do extra chores.
When it came time to drive I was required to pay my own gas and insurance but I got to use my parents’ third car. However, as soon as I turned 19 I had to buy my own car. I paid for half of college, and the list goes on and on. Whatever the next obstacle was in life, I was always required to have some skin in the game. Each new thing was a stretch for me. What started with half of a birthday present as a kid became finding a way to come up with $10,000 per year in tuition as a 19 year old (Debt was not an option I was allowed to choose, so I applied to every scholarship I could get my hands on).
Here’s what all this consistent earning my own way did for me: Because the next mountain to climb was always a bit of a stretch for me to afford, I learned a lot of tenacity. I did not quit a job just because I didn’t like something about it. I was careful to choose things with the most value; when it came time to go to college I considered both prestige and price. I pushed myself into better and better work situations. I learned to enjoy activities that are free or low-cost, i.e. surfing and hiking. Most importantly, I learned a lot about gratitude.
While these lessons were painful at times growing up, I am incredibly grateful to my parents looking back. I want nothing more than for your teenagers to be functional adults even if they have to struggle a bit now. I’ve been told there is no better feeling than for an adult child to tell a parent thank you for the discipline they received.
Hard work and accomplishing goals equates to confidence, self-esteem, personal value, and contentedness. Give your teenager the gift of all these things by requiring them to earn part of their way.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT