As holiday time approaches, many parents begin to anxiously crunch the numbers in their budgets for gifts. Will they be able to spring for the latest gaming system, sneakers, jackets and boots?
Family vacations, such as camping trips, merit the investment of money and time – because research shows that shared experiences are remembered more vividly than even the most lavish gifts. In the mind, campfires and creek walks burn longer than couches and consoles.
But with camping season on hiatus, how can families channel their kids’ energy and appetite for “the latest”, the must-haves, the little luxuries that stuff stockings and lift spirits?
The solution might be simple, for the season and for a New Year’s resolution. Have kids work. In many cases, allow kids to work.
Kids have a natural industriousness and a craving for responsibility. In his book The Opposite of Spoiled, Ron Lieber, money columnist for the New York Times, says he’s heard countless stories about kids redeeming cans and bottles for refunds. And yet many families refuse to entertain the thought of a child performing chores around the house, or a teenager holding a part-time job after school.
“No one wants to return to the days when children worked full-time on the farm or in factories at the age of 12,” he writes. “But many parents have swung to the opposite extreme in the past decade or two, shielding even their oldest children …from paid work altogether.” For the latter half of the 20th century, 45 percent of American kids ages 16-19 had jobs; by 2013, it’s at the all-time low of 20 percent. Part of this flows from the anxiety of the college admissions game. But the skills imparted by a job –including work ethic and “grit” to persevere, not to mention entrepreneurial muscle – can boost life skills as much as any drama club or soccer captainship. A recent study shows that high “grit” scores are more predictive than IQ tests on academic performance, from spelling bees to retention at West Point.
In one of his book’s most fascinating chapters, Lieber visits a farm family in Utah where seven boys (ranging from 6 to 19 years old) raise 1,800 cows. The youngest started working at age 5, steering tractors through cowpens while his older brothers supervise the feedings or stack bales of straw and hay. They fit in workloads at dawn or after school, between Boy Scout meetings and wrestling practices; and each receive a paycheck for their efforts.
For kids who are too young to hold a job, at-home chores can lay the groundwork for “grit,” particularly meal preparation. Consider the nine-year-old girl who cooked Beef Wellington on the final rounds of MasterChef Junior, deftly handling knives and open flames.
While extreme, this talent points up a child’s ability to actively participate in some sort of meal preparation, from setting the table to serving the soup. We often have kids pitch in while we camp; why not bring teamwork into the kitchen, especially around holiday time?
You’ll be easing your task burden, carving out more time for relaxed eating around the table. You’ll show kids how to build confidence, life skills and work ethic – not to mention an appreciation for food.
Combine industrious can-do attitude with generous holiday spirit, and you just might find the solution to stretching your budgets and your patience this year.