Expecting More From the Next Generation

Is it time to rethink our children and work? Adam LaRoche, a major league baseball player, just turned down $13 million dollars to play for the Chicago White Sox because they told him he couldn’t bring his 14 year old son to work with him as much anymore.

The general manager had this to say,

“We all think his kid is a great young man. I just felt it should not be every day, that’s all. You tell me, where in this country can you bring your child to work every day?”

Sports writer Buster Olney reported, “There is no evidence, however, that LaRoche’s son, Drake, an aspiring third-generation baseball player, is anything but a respectful, appropriately confident, well-liked kid who was never anything but a delight to be around.”

So who is right? I think we as a nation should re-think how we introduce our children to work. Pre industrial revolution, it was common for young children to begin making contributions around the farm to help the family produce what was needed to eke out their living. After the industrial revolution, and during the depression, children often worked in poor conditions and long hours. These conditions spurred the creation of child labor laws.

Three generations later, however, we are lamenting the work ethic of upcoming generations. We are lamenting the lack of “livable wage” at the bottom rungs of the work force. I think we have reaped unintended consequences. We are keeping energy-filled, eager-to-learn, talented young people from the work force until they are sixteen. There are few opportunities for a 14 year old anymore. Sure, they can work for their parents if they are fortunate enough to own a business or a farm. But our workplaces generally are not 14 year-old friendly.

What if, like previous generations, we offered apprenticeships and internships for 14 year-olds?

What if, more work places wanted and asked for your early teenage kids to come to work with you? Not for child-care purposes, but so that they could begin growing in their knowledge of work and production? I run the show where I work.  I have made an open-door policy for our staff to bring their kids. It’s not a dangerous place to work, so quite often, even young children are seen running around.

Sometimes there’s extra chaos because they are younger. Yet what I often see, is that these kids are growing up learning their parents business. They are growing to contribute early in life. My own kids began working in the office, the video production studio, the grounds and maintenance areas and other key places and they are early producers who people love to hire.

What many people fail to realize, is that these kids have the ability to produce! We started a program called, Lifeworks. It’s an 8 week, five days a week program for 12 to 15 year-olds. They work in the hot sun all summer. We teach them and train them. They work, they learn, they contribute. We pay them in our own currency and they learn valuable lessons in delayed gratification and production. Some have gone on to start their own businesses.

I realize that some workplaces are dangerous and cannot accommodate children. But we have millions of students sitting around all summer when they could be starting at entry level positions learning basic work skills. Then, they could learn to solve harder problems sooner so they can increase their earning potential sooner. Life will demand more production and higher pay. Instead, what we’ve done is communicate to these young people that they have little to contribute, that they are too irresponsible to make a difference. So what do they do? They act irresponsible and entitled. They fail to learn higher-level skills, so we give them student loans, and lobby for a higher minimum wage. This enslaves students and inhibits the hiring of minimally skilled workers and artificially inflates prices.

If you’re an employer, I encourage you explore the possibility of encouraging your employees to bring their teenagers to work. Have them dress appropriately, act professionally and make some kind of contribution – cleaning, filing, answering phones, social media marketing, whatever you decide. They will rise to the occasion.

I think the White Sox are making a mistake. I think our country is making a mistake.

We don’t expect much from our kids anymore. And they are living up to our expectations.

This may come back to bite the team that shunned a budding 14 year-old ball player. I think they would be better served to allow him to be a part as long as he acts the part and makes a contribution to the team. It’s likely that Adam LaRoche’s son will become a third generation ball player. And if he does, I’m pretty sure what team he won’t play for.

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