While walking through one of my favorite discount stores the other day, I happened upon a scene that gave me hope for America's future. It was change I could believe in, for sure.
As her four children hopped around her, begging her in their most pitiful voices to buy them something, a mother stood, impassive, obviously immune to their retail angst, chanting, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no. . . ."
As I walked by, smiling at her, it struck me that the economy, bad as it is, could have beneficial effects on parenting. After all, I haven't witnessed a scene of that sort in quite some time, and I've seen two in the last two weeks, in two different cities, widely separated. Something is happening.
In an economy like we've had for the past eight years, parents can afford to be Sugar-Mommies and Sugar-Daddies to their children. They can afford to buy cell phones for 6-year-olds and expensive German automobiles for 16-year-olds. They can dress their kids in designer clothes, adorn their kids' rooms with the latest in electronic gear, and generally treat them to a standard of living that most people in the world never attain, and the most people referred to are people who work. Those days are fast coming to an end.
And while we're on the subject, today's children don't work. They luxuriate. From the time they are born until they emancipate (if ever), their parents fund at-home entitlement programs. Oh, I know there are exceptions. I also know they are few and far between.
Fifteen years ago, I began telling audiences around the country that today's kids, when and if they ever truly grow up and leave home for good, will look to two sources to continue the entitlements their parents have provided them to that point: the United States government and employers. Need I comment on the former? As for employers, the executives and managers I talk to tell me, in so many words, that today's young people, fresh out of colleges that pamper them like their parents did, are not looking for jobs. Rather, they are looking for benefits. A job is an inconvenient reality into which they will put minimum effort.
When I was a kid, nearly every child enjoyed a responsible role in his or her family, a role defined by chores. We were not on entitlement programs. (Thank you, Mom and Dad.) By and large, today's kids have no chores. Their parents are too busy running them to completely superfluous after-school activities that may build certain skills, but fail to build what endures: good citizenship — which, by the way, parents once maintained began in the home. Not on the ball field.
I'm confident that children like it when they have no responsibilities toward their families; that they are consumers and not contributors. But then children like lots of things that aren't good for them.
Anyway, perhaps the economy will force parents to cut back on after-school trivia, let their home cleaning and yard maintenance services go, and put their kids to work. Like I said, that would certainly be change I could believe in. I wonder, is this what Obama had in mind all along?
In any case, I can't think of anything that would be better for America's future than kids who have less and work more. Maybe their Moms will have to go to work and won't have the energy to help them with their homework anymore.
Oh boy! This bad economy could really have a silver lining!
If you'd like to help start this new American parenting revolution, all you have to do is remember these words: "No, no, no, no, no, no, no. . . ."
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his Web site at www.rosemond.com.