Wednesday, March 16, 2005

IT'S THE PARENTS FAULT

Americans bemoan the poor performance of our middle school and high school students. They blame the teachers, the TV, the attitude of friends and neighbors, government officials and everyone but themselves.

David Owen has written a wonderful book tittled, The First National Bank of Dad: The Best Way to Teach Kids About Money. The main focus of the text is to teach children the value of money by giving children responsibility for some of the money in Dad's wallet--letting the children earn a bonus each month by not over-spending their allowance.

One attitude David discussed is the attitude many parents have about jobs for teenagers. How can we expect students to excel in higher education if our priority is to get them to earn goof-off bucks bagging groceries or flipping burgers. Much can be learned from hard work but will a teenager learn more from writing for the school paper, serving as an officer of a service club, performing in a school play or flipping burgers.

My family is not afraid of hard work. My wife, daughters and I worked part-time jobs when we were teenagers. These ladies were far more prudent than I. They earned money that was spent for living and educational expenses. I have waisted more money in my life than I care to admit. As a foolish teenager, I worked an average of 34 hours per week at a grocery store and failed to achieve my potential as a student. Had I worked only 20 hours per week, I would have had plenty of "spending" money and those 14 hours per week could have been spent far more wisely.

At the University of North Carolina, I took Education 41; taught by Dr. Unks. Thirty years later, I was pleased when my youngest daughter took the same course under the same professor. Dr. Unks helped us to understand that parents should have attitudes of high expectation. Dr. Unks and I believe the biggest mistake parents make is to not give young children as much responsibility and freedom as they can handle. Parents need to lead by example. By the time a child is a teenager he should have internal beliefs and priorities that guide his actions.

As an assistant Scout-Master for four years, I enjoyed helping young men learn the life skills and values that will serve them well through-out their lives. This was a time consuming part time job and a labor of love. The tough part was to provide guidance and encouragement to each scout while accepting that they each have the right to fail. Those who fail to make eagle sometimes a lesson that the successful miss.

Only about 1% of all boys who enter the program walk away with the rank of eagle. While the rules allow 18 year-olds to earn the honor, Scout leaders have a saying, "Few boys make eagle after they get a whiff of perfume and gasoline". Our troop leaders encouraged scouts to earn the eagle rank by the age of 16. We were very aware that our culture encourages 16 year olds to get jobs to buy cars, gas and incredible amounts of "stuff". We were aware that even the parents interest declines when they realize the boys are available to be chauffeurs for younger siblings.

Yesterday's Winston-Salem Journal included an associated press article from Raleigh NC. The article was titled UNC study: Mormons best students. UNC sociologist, Christian Smith, recently completed a four year study of UNC students. He found that Mormon teenagers generally avoid risky behaviors and do well in school. Mormons follow the tenants of Dr. Unks and David Owen. They expect their children to do well, they invest in their education and encourage them to perform services for character building rather than for pay.

Conservative Protestants ranked second in avoiding risky behaviors and second in school performance. My wife and I participated with our daughter in orientation at UNC five years ago. The school presented an excellent session to show that students often enter with the mistaken impression that drunken binges are expected of students. The reality is that the majority of the students are very responsible in regard to sexual activity, drug and alcohol use.

The conservative Protestants rank higher than the Mormon students on questions such as, Do you believe in God? So the cause of superior performance is not that the Mormons are "more religious". The study shows that Mormons have "intentionally created social contexts in which religious faith matters a lot". At an age when the Protestant students are expected to flip burgers for the summer in order to have more spending money, the Mormons are expected to complete a "mission".

When Alan Greenspan testified to congress last month, he talked about how many good jobs are available to the educated. In one significant way, Mr. Greenspan's testimony leads one to different conclusions than the teachings of Dr. Unks. Dr. Unks draws a formula on the board that says education does not equal socioeconomic success. He says one of his boyhood friends made a huge fortune by being lucky in the garbage hauling business. His point is that Protestants over-emphasis education as a means to wealth. We tend to mislead our children into believing that wealth is the most important accomplishment of life.

Considering the above background is it surprising that our children rush to get jobs before they acquire the education necessary to get good jobs? Let us all stop blaming too little government money on a problem that cannot be fixed with money. We need an attitude shift. The job of a child is to enjoy living as a "Child of God" who seeks to relate to serve others. If children are not learning these lessons, IT'S THE PARENTS FAULT!