My BFF wasn’t allowed to have gum as a child. Apparently, this was the only thing she ever wanted when she accompanied her mom to the grocery store and her mom always said no. She vowed that when she had kids, if they wanted gum, they were gonna get gum, dammit!
My mom would never buy me a subscription to Teen Beat. The yearly price of $19.99 was hard for a non-working girl of eleven to save up, never mind that I didn’t have a checkbook with which to write the check for $19.99 and send it in to the good people at Teen Beat. ‘If you want that waste of money, you have to pay for it,’ I was told, month after month. Some months I could afford it. Some months, I stared longingly at the faces of Kirk Cameron and Joey McIntyre, wishing I could make money like The Babysitters Club girls. The hurt and injustice of my mother not buying me Teen Beat was so great that I, too, vowed that if my children want a teeny-bopper magazine, they SHALL HAVE IT!
I grew up not wanting for much, except Teen Beat. Sure, there was the year I wanted the colored jean shorts from Goody’s or the cut-off, stone-washed overalls so I could let one side hang open, like all the cool kids. Other than that, I had food, shelter, and clothes (no matter how uncool they might be, but that has not changed even though I am in charge of buying my own clothes now).
My grandmother was a child of the Great Depression and a World War. She knew about rationing and making food and clothing go as far as it could. Before her, I had ancestors who didn’t finish grammar school, who went to work as children or very young adults, because otherwise they might not eat. They farmed and worked and helped carry the weight of the family.
When my grandmother had kids, just as her parents and their parents before them, she wanted better for them. Just as my mother wanted better for me. Just as I should want better for my children.
But I don’t.
As I teacher, I see too many kids getting the things we felt like we should’ve had as kids. My friend Cristin over at Between Roots and Wings posted this about taking her daughter to Babyland General Hospital and longing to have her daughter embrace a Cabbage Patch Kid, because she wasn’t allowed one until she was older. And her daughter, as kids are wont to do, was highly uninterested.
The thing is- Cristin didn’t deserve a Cabbage Patch Kid. I didn’t deserve various issues of Teen Beat. BFF didn’t deserve gum. We all deserve, as humans, food, shelter, clothing, and love. For all other things, be they material or otherwise, you should work for them. End of story. Our grandparents and great-grandparents had to work to provide better for their kids. No one came along and said, ‘Oh, you have suffered. Here you go- money, education, awards, x-box, all for you.’ Nope, they pulled themselves up, worked their asses off, and got shit done. They realized the value of education and made their kids finish school so they could have better. Which more than likely meant even harder work for our grandparents.
I did not grow up thinking I was entitled to anything, except food and shelter. I got big gifts like my bicycle and my camera for Christmas, not just because I wanted it. My mom shopped out of the Sears catalog for our clothes until it became unbearably embarrassing and I cried. We went on one family vacation a year, always within driving distance. I only went to camp twice in my life. And though I count myself among the lucky ones who didn’t come out of college with student loans, because my dad paid for college, I worked to make that happen; he only paid for college because I worked my ass off to get scholarships that covered a big portion of my tuition.
We have gone too far, wanting better for our kids. For most of the people I know, kids I teach, better only seems to mean more stuff that they don’t need or deserve. Kids don’t have to work for anything anymore- not allowances, not awards, not grades, not material possessions. Nothing. They are being freely handed those things, just for showing up, or because they’ll kick up a stink if they don’t get it. And instead of putting our foot down and saying, ‘I am the adult and it is my money, if you want it, find a way to make some money’ we say, ‘Okay, okay, just stop whining! I’ll get you whatever you want!’
But they don’t deserve it.
They also don’t deserve to hear YES all the time. Friends of mine have uttered the terrifying words, ‘I will never tell my child no. I got told no all the time.’ Well.
See, kids need to hear no. They need to know that they shouldn’t do things that are dangerous to their well-being- i.e. put their hand on a burning stove, step on a Lego, drink bleach, talk back to their Southern momma. They also need to know that when they have done something wrong, there are consequences- i.e. ‘No, you can’t go out to play because you haven’t finished your homework.’ They need to be told that there are ways to behave and ways not to behave. You should be respectful to your parents and your elders. You should say please and thank you. You should work hard in school and your job so that you can achieve whatever level of success you desire.
Kids aren’t born knowing these things. If you don’t teach them to respect adults, they won’t. They will assume that they are in charge and can behave however they like. If you don’t teach them that there are consequences for their behavior, whether it’s not completing school work, coming home late, talking back, hitting their sister, looking at inappropriate things on the internet, they won’t know. If you teach them that they can have whatever they want just by asking (or whining) for it, that’s what they’ll do. As kids, as teenagers, as adults.
Hearing no is good for kids. It really, really is. It’s also okay to say yes. Get them that gum sometimes. Maybe a subscription to Teen Beat could be a Christmas or birthday present. But they don’t deserve to hear yes just because you CAN say it.
Here is a list of things no one deserves without hard work:
- A college education
- An i-anything
- A car when they turn 16
- Designer clothes
- The newest whatever
- Any gaming system
- Expensive weddings
Here is a list of things everyone deserves:
- The opportunity to make a good and comfortable life for themselves and their family
That opportunity should come because someone chooses to work for it, not because a parent can hand it to them. To give our children a better life, we should be teaching them the value of hard work. They should know how to stand up for themselves, but also how to accept when they haven’t done what it takes to get the grade or the award or the promotion. Teach them not to take their opportunities for granted.
Teach them that they need to earn respect from peers, teachers, bosses, coaches, friends because they have worked for it, not because they deserve it just for being alive.