The Minimum Wage is Bad for Teens

Neighborhood jobs like paper routes have largely vanished, and fewer teens are working than ever.  Where can a kid learn to work these days?  photo: hot-dogma.com

Neighborhood jobs like paper routes have largely vanished, and fewer teens are working than ever.

How does a teen learn how to work these days?

By “learn to work,” I’m talking about being productive continually over many hours, deciding what to do when instructions don’t totally apply to a situation, stepping in to do some needed thing that’s not in the original job description, being courteous and responsive to customers, etc.

31 percent of all minimum wage workers are teenagers, ages 16-19, and yet the percentage of this group that is working is at a historic low of 25%.

Clearly, a kid doesn’t just show up for work the first time after 12 years of school, or even 16, and understand how to do these things. A high school or college graduate who has never worked at a job isn’t very valuable. That’s all there is to it.
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Waiting for Marco to “Figure it Out”

In a recent evening that marked a huge turnaround for Marco, he wrote this checklist of things to remember to be responsible.

In a recent evening that marked a huge turnaround for Marco, he wrote this checklist of things to remember to be responsible.

My oldest son Marco (9), has never been one of the more responsible kids for his age. He hardly ever cleans up after himself, so his room is a total mess, and his things are strewn randomly around our house. He hardly ever helps his younger brothers without prodding. He very frequently loses things. He hardly ever says “please” or “thank you.”

Other adults who have observed Marco’s behavior have blamed my wife and me for poor parenting, either explicitly, or to themselves. That’s embarrassing, to say the least.

So, why don’t we “do our job” and stop this irresponsible behavior? Most parents adopt one of the following two strategies to avoid the sort of irresponsible behavior that Marco exhibits:
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Boys and Preschool

My 4-year-old, Leo, gets practically nothing out of preschool. His two older brothers, now in 3rd grade and kindergarten, got very little out of it as well. It’s not that they hate it or really miss Mommy or Daddy.

I’m certainly willing to believe that many – perhaps millions – of boys have great preschool experiences, but there are also many, many boys like mine.

My boys just haven’t “clicked” with their preschools. Sometimes, they engage in activities, but not with any zest. Other times, they just stand around and watch. They’ve never made good friends there. They bring home countless cute art projects, but they quickly forget about them minutes after getting home.

Leo's on the lower right, in a yellow shirt, staring off into space, as his preschool teacher plays guitar and other kids sing.

Leo’s on the lower right, in a yellow shirt, staring off into space, as his preschool teacher plays guitar.

Also, to varying degrees, all my boys’ preschool teachers have found fault with their “social and emotional development.” Leo’s preschool teacher has given us a strong recommendation that we “redshirt” him next year and send him to a Young 5s program.
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When a Kid Negotiates Play Dates With Moms

My son Marco, at age nine, plans his own play dates. He knows when he has free time. He can ride his bike to other kids’ houses on his own.

Unfortunately, very few of his friends can do these things. This fact has resulted in a rather sparse social life this school year for Marco.

You see, there are kids who want to play with him, but they’re powerless. Their moms and nannies hold the power, and they’re not too thrilled for their kids to play with Marco because there’s no social benefit for them.

I’ve seen this play out numerous times outside of school right after the end-of-day bell rings. It goes something like this. Marco approaches a kid to ask him to play after school. The kid looks interested, but clueless. He feebly asks his mom or nanny. She replies, “No, we have plans to go to ____’s house today.” Then, a moment later, that mom or nanny starts yapping with other moms and nannies.
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Storm Clouds Ahead

The teenage years are a huge black storm cloud we're driving our kids into.  Can we turn away?

The teenage years are a huge black storm cloud we’re driving our kids into. Can we turn away?

You know that feeling when the weather where you are is perfectly fine, but you’re approaching a wall of black clouds?

That’s what I feel like when I see my boys (9, 5-1/2, and 4) approaching their teenage years. Life is going to suck, and I don’t think I can do much about it.

A recent article entitled “My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me makes this clear. In it, writer Karl Taro Greenfield decides to do his 13-year-old daughter Esmee’s homework alongside her for one week. He ends the week exhausted and stressed. Keep in mind that he’s a college grad and accomplished professional writer, and he’s doing 8th-grade work, albeit on an advanced academic track.

What got Greenfield to try this experiment was seeing Esmee do three or four hours of homework per night, often past midnight, and wake up cranky and bleary-eyed the next morning.

Esmee’s mantra is revealing of how she’s handling this lifestyle emotionally: “Memorization, not rationalization.” So, at 13, she’s come up with a hard-nosed survival strategy. Don’t think, just cram.

A daily survival mantra for a kid that age? That doesn’t sound like a fun childhood to me. It sounds miserable.
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Imprisonment of Kids, at School and at Home

Nico (5) was not happy about being sent to kindergarten on the first day of school.

Nico (5) was not happy about being sent to kindergarten on the first day of school.

Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn, thinks that schools are very much like prisons for children. I must admit that Gray’s contention has some merit.

Let’s face it – kids are forced to stay at school, whether they like it or not. Furthermore, they are told what they must do at every moment, and are punished for not complying. And, they don’t have any say over any of these rules.

My wife and I just sent our middle son, Nico, to his first day of kindergarten two weeks ago. He was not pleased at all on that first day. Nico’s leaving behind a very fun, very free home life, so I’d say he’s quite rational for preferring home over school. Most other kids have less fun and free home lives than Nico does, and are more eager to go to school than he is.

In fact, I’d take Gray’s analysis of schools a step further and say that many children’s homes have some similarities to prison, too. After all, what percentage of children are allowed to walk off their home’s property without an adult accompanying them? I’d say this number is much less than 50%, and has declined sharply in the last few decades.
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Suburb Hating is Anti-Child

Back in his childless, law school days, Barack Obama said, "I’m not interested in the suburbs. The suburbs bore me."  Is his administration as anti-suburb (and anti-child) as Obama was back then?

Back in his childless, law school days, Barack Obama said, “I’m not interested in the suburbs. The suburbs bore me.” Is his administration as anti-suburb (and anti-child) as Obama was back then?

Sure, suburbs have big problems. Their designs force their inhabitants to drive in cars, instead of walking and bicycling. This diminishes face-to-face interactions, physical health, and the quality of the environment. Aesthetically, many of them, particularly those dreaded “planned communities,” are quite boring. People who live there tend not to have much contact with people who aren’t like them, so suburbs reinforce racial, religious, and class segregation.

A large proportion of intellectuals and politicians, including President Obama, decry these problems with suburbs as reason to hate them and advocate for their elimination, in favor of dense, big cities.

Yeah, I get it. I agree that all these problems exist, and they bother me a lot.

There’s just one big problem with suburb hating. The alternative to suburbs in metropolitan areas, cities, are much worse for children. Sure, adults can have a great time in hip, dense city centers like Manhattan or San Francisco. In fact, if my wife and I never had kids, we’d still be living in San Francisco, going out practically every night.

However, it’s clear that cities are worse for kids than suburbs.

Why do I say this?

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Making Summer Vacation Worthwhile

Here's Nico with the newt he caught one day at a creek.  He learned a tremendous amount that day about newts and the ecosystem that surrounds them.

Here’s Nico with the newt he caught one day at a creek. He learned a tremendous amount that day about newts and the ecosystem that surrounds them.

Our neighbor Tommy (5) didn’t come to our house to play with my boys yesterday afternoon because he was doing homework for his summer camp.

Oh, brother…

If you think childhood is all about school, then of course, you think summer vacation is a waste. Why spend three months goofing off? You might as well attend a “summer camp” that simulates school.

On the other hand, I’m a big believer in summer vacation. I happen to believe that it can, and should, have value for children that is distinct from the value of school.

So, my wife and I have tried to structure summer for our three boys so that they can make many great accomplishments that aren’t possible during the school year. In the meantime, they’re having a fabulous time. Can you say “Win-Win?”
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Signmaking at Camp Yale

Here's AJ's sign.  He was the first to go wild with colors.

Here’s AJ’s sign. He was the first to go wild with colors.

At the fifth annual Camp Yale neighborhood summer camp, each kid created a nice memento – a wooden sign with their name carved into it and painted.

The kids were thrilled. They put a lot of creativity into them, and they’re proud of the way they look.

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Huntopoly 3.0: A Technology-Aided Treasure Hunt

A boy carries a Quest Box for his teammates as they try to discover the one place where they can open it.

A boy proudly holds his team’s Quest Box shortly after discovering the place that they could open it in less than ten attempts.

Some advocates of children’s outdoor play would have you believe that technology is the enemy. Kids who attended my fifth annual Camp Yale two weeks ago would vehemently disagree.

They played Huntopoly 3.0 (here are articles on Huntopoly 2.0 and 1.0), which featured treasure boxes with some nifty electronics.

Each team of kids got a “Quest Box,” that has a small LCD screen and button on the outside, and treasures and hunt instructions on the inside. Also on the inside, hidden, are the electronics, including a GPS chip.

The teams’ first task was to find the one place on earth where their boxes can open. Using an application on my computer and a USB cable, I set a unique location on each box the night before. Every location I chose was within a half mile of my yard, which was “home base” for our camp.
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