Children’s Work and Play

When was the last time you saw a neighborhood kid delivering newspapers?  source: histriomastix.typepad.com

Children hardly do household chores anymore. They hardly work at part-time jobs, either.

Instead, increasingly, their schoolwork is their “work.” Interested only in what matters to college admissions departments, parents would rather their children do homework or participate in extracurricular activities than do chores or work part-time.

The cost of this choice is high for today’s youth in many ways. When they finally do enter the work force as young adults, they do so with little or no experience doing “unskilled” work. Most parents like to think of their children as high-level managerial material, but young people can learn many valuable lessons cleaning floors, cutting lawns, flipping burgers, or delivering newspapers.From a young age, I had real chores at my house like garden work (cutting grass and weeding) and garbage duty (taking garbage down to the garage every day and taking it outside to the curb once a week).

At my father’s pharmacy and home health care business, from the age of nine, I cleaned floors and bathrooms, stocked shelves, ran the cash register, and helped deliver products to customers’ homes. I learned everything about how that business worked from the ground up. I earned money based on the value of my work, and I saw it accumulate with interest in my bank account as I planned my own purchases of Hot Wheels or sporting goods.

I also learned basic skills that are valuable working at any job – showing up on time, jumping in to help on things that come up outside of my present task, managing multiple tasks simultaneously, figuring out how to get a task done with ambiguous or incomplete instructions, etc.

Lastly, I gained real empathy for working people. Despite the fact that I was a great student in middle school and high school and ended up going to a top-notch university, I was just another worker when I went to work. To this day, when I see a janitor mopping up or a delivery person dropping off a package, I feel like I have a connection with that worker. I often strike up conversations with them, and in tipping situations, I tip them well.

So, what does all this have to do with the topics of this blog? Well, from the name, “Playborhood,” you might conclude that this is a blog about neighborhood play. That’s right, but it’s also very much about children developing autonomous skills so they can gain control over their lives. Children who play mindlessly need adults to watch over them constantly. The aim here is “purposeful play,” akin to the flow experience that psychological researchers identify as the purest form of joy in humans.

I want my children to learn to take control over their own play so that they ultimately can take control over their own lives. If they gain this fundamental ability, they’ll always be able to enjoy their work. They’ll be able to play their whole lives, whether they’re at work or on the golf course.

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2 Responses to Children’s Work and Play

  1. Perla_Ni_FB says:

    The main reason I think kids should have chores is that otherwise they get lazy. But I have no research to back this up.

    I do think most people think of chores – such as having the kids wash the floors as “unskilled” or “menial” work without much benefit in terms of kids’ “social development” or “emotional development” or “intellectual development”.

    Work skills are important as they grow older. Could you elaborate on the benefits for younger children who – at this stage, are years away from the work world?

    Perla

  2. kchristieh says:

    Great post. I totally agree. My daughter is a senior in high school, and just started working at a local sandwich shop. Her boss is a great guy, and says he’ll teach her not only how to make great subs, but how business works. I’m glad she has a boss like that, instead of one determined to break every child labor law on the books (like my first boss).

    This is her second job; she worked as a lifeguard two summers ago. She wanted to have jobs during the school year earlier than this year, but she did two school sports each year and although her grades were ok, they weren’t great, and we thought they’d suffer if she had another activity taking her away from schoolwork.

    I think in the end she’s balanced it well, and will hopefully learn more of the lessons you talk about in this post.